Smt. Adv. Yashomati Chandrakant Thakur (Sonawane),
Women and Child Development Department
It is said that our bodies are heavenly, godly even, able to bear the brunt of birth and of bloodshed. But why is that we are seen as impure when we are at our most vulnerable? At our most painful? Why is it that the blood we shed becomes a curse for us to not sustain our bodies? Why, is having a womb a sin? These are some questions that come to my mind when I think of the several of women in villages like Beed being womb-less, less by choice and more by design.
The widespread issue of hysterectomies being performed on women without any reason to justify the huge procedure is commonplace in villages like Beed which fall under the several villages in the sugarcane belt of India. As I pass by the many villages in Kolvan and Mulshi, I see women with backs that seem perpetually bent and broken. Sugarcane knives in hand and tiredness in their eyes, they toil under the sun for their meal of the day.
But I’m not here to preach for your pity. I’m here to ask for action. In order for them to work effectively, several women in their 20s undergo this life-altering procedure of removing their uterus. Medically, hysterectomy is seen as the last straw to any such prevailing condition. But in the Marathwada region, the rising number of hysterectomies is clearly a cause for concern.
Why do these women choose to go through such a harsh and expensive procedure? The drought-stricken land of the Beed district makes their lives harder as they have to work under harsh conditions for meagre harvest. Two-and-a-half tonnes a day, that’s how much sugarcane they harvest when they work. Women like us, with more calloused palms and no wombs. Does that make them less of a woman than us?
The employers of such women view menstruation as a mere hindrance to their productivity, an utter disregard for their health and well-being. This disregard can perhaps be attributed to the taboo associated with the topic of menstruation in India, more particularly in rural India. Inability to work means a fine. A fine means no food. Why can’t they work? They bleed, is that a mistake? Something they did wrong?
They go in good faith to consult their doctors about pain and discharge, something we all who bleed experience but don’t know others do. They call their doctors well-educated and so they put their bodies, their means of life in their hands. And these doctors tell them to get rid of their wombs. A family which can not earn if they cannot use their labour has to pay to never go through labour. They go through the expensive procedure of removing all or parts of their uterus, as unnecessary as the removal may be. They consider this a blessing, even with the huge debt that it incurs. Is this what we meant by healthcare for all?
The side effects of the procedure are high, with joint pain to low calcium. The lack of nutritious diet paired with such an incredibly invasive procedure being performed results in them having lost their ability to menstruate and to give birth, ridding them of their choice. I consider this to be a situation where they are stuck, though one can argue that these women made the choice themselves. They were not provided the details of the side effects of the procedure nor of its lack of necessity. Moreover, the lack of dialogue in the country regarding menstruation is also a factor. They do not know how to alleviate pain, they don’t even know that this pain is normal.
Contractors push them to get the procedure so that they can reap more benefits from the workers. Such exploitation of the women by equating their worth to their productivity is sickening. The Hindu states that “State data showed that 99 private hospitals in Beed district have carried out 4,605 hysterectomies since April 2016.” Such incentivising of women’s lack of health awareness for capital income, whether it be for doctors or the contractors is something that I hope warrants action.
I hope that there will menstrual awareness campaigns in rural areas, with more female doctors so that the rural women feel comfortable talking about their intimate health with them. Awareness is key as women often tend to rely on doctors due to lack of information about their own bodies. Normalising conversation around menstrual health is not easy in such neck of the woods, but gradual introduction of such topics in rural areas is key.
Campaigns can engage local women leaders so that such information is not misused by the people who already exploit them. Though this may seem like a stretch, involving the men of such areas in the conversation helps as they are able to empathise with their wives or family members. Moreover, the reasons behind performing such a procedure must be adequate and such a protocol must be implemented within private hospitals as well as public. If necessary, a public health notice must be communicated in order for women to refer to reliable sources to make a choice.
Moreover, the communication of the side effects of the procedure must also be compulsorily communicated with the women. These are acts that can be implemented at a medical level. Regular contact must be maintained with the women to make sure that their contractors do not exploit them, though this may be extremely challenging due to the migratory nature of the community. These are some ways to address this burning issue.
The pain that these women have to go through makes me shiver. Potentially threatening their future just so that they can survive to see it seems too cruel of a practice. Moreover the unnecessary nature and high price tag attached to it, literally and figuratively adds to the weight of the issue. The womb is not something that we need to dispose of to live, in day-to-day cases. The discomfort of open defecation, lack of dialogue around menstruation, pain of daily labour and growing poverty are all aspects of their lives that plague their well-being.
Womb-less, the newspapers and journals call them. Right-less, I would say. Lack of their right to information is blatant in this issue. The blood they shed every month should not be their issue of their survival. The blood they shed during such unnecessary and invasive procedures is an issue of their survival. And for every single woman who sheds blood on such operating tables, we have more blood on our hands as responsible citizens.
Hoping for action.