Scared into premature menopause, Beed women take up the cudgels

Mumbai: In a workshop held to spread awareness on illegal hysterectomies on female sugarcane workers in Beed, the issue highlighted was the manner in which the system forces women to undergo hysterectomies at a young age. The sugar factory owners deny women menstrual leave as they do not want them staying away from work. When a woman has borne two to three children, it is suggested she have her uterus removed to avoid getting cancer. Frightened to death, the woman complies. This has been the pattern for the past two decades. Shockingly, there has been no inquiry, nor has any action been taken against the doctors and factory owners.

For a paltry sum of Rs 1500, for cutting two tonnes of sugarcane daily, families push their young girls into early marriages. The cutting season lasts for six months. But early marriage results in early childbirth. Once these young mothers have produced two or three children, their menstruation becomes a problem for the family as well as the factory owners. Shiv Sena spokesperson Manisha Kayande said, “Women labourers working in  sugar industries are being forced or convinced to undergo hysterectomy to avoid taking leave during menstrual days. These women have come together to fight out this issue.”

Because they miss a few days of work every month, the profit-oriented factory owners are reluctant to give them leave. Sheela Manick Waghmare, now 32, told The Free Press Journal that the owners do not like them missing any working days and there is no medical help. “I go to Sangli, Satara and Kolhapur to get work. The places where we work, the owners would not give us holidays and would complain we do not go to work during our periods (menstruation). Worse, there were no health clinics or hospitals. We would get no help,” said Waghmare.

After three pregnancies, 12 years ago, Waghmare was asked to go to a private doctor and was told she had to remove her uterus. She was just 20 years old when this happened. Waghmare said, she was further told, she would get cancer if she did not go ahead with the operation. Not being educated about menstruation she did not realise what was happening with her body. She did not realise her body had abruptly gone into meno-pause and was suffering from its related symptoms. Like Waghmare, Asha Bajirao Shinde also told the workshop they suffer from joint aches, body aches, exhaustion and other menopausal ailments.

During the workshop the health officer from Beed, Dr N Chincholikar said, “These forced hysterectomies have to be stopped, awareness has to be spread and there should be a focus on removal of the fear of cancer.” Shinde said, “After I got married, I had three children in quick succession. I underwent hysterectomy 20 years ago. I used to work hard in the fields and sometimes be in pain, so we went to the doctor. The doctor told me then I was likely to get cancer in the future and to avoid this I should have my uterus removed. Had the doctors been ethical and given us an honest opinion, I would not have undergone this unnecessary operation.”

Like Waghmare, many other women from Beed who attended this workshop said they were not shown their sonography reports; nor were they given medicines by the doctors who had forced them to undergo hysterectomies. The 233 women surveyed said the reasons they underwent forced hysterectomy was due to fibroids, vaginal discharge, bleeding P/V, abdominal pain, swelling of the uterus and others. It should be noted, the doctors and women’s rights groups said, these causes do not require hysterectomies and can be resolved with medicines and other treatment options.

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