It has been documented that in Beed district of Maharashtra, there is a sudden surge amongst women, especially the ones working in the sugarcane factories, in undergoing hysterectomy. This could be viewed as a classic example of the conditions of women in an unorganised sector.
The unorganised sector that is referred to in India is large and its contribution to the total net value was 63.5 percent in the year 1992-1993. What differentiates between the unorganised and organised sector are the laws laid down by the government in favour of the employees. The organised sector has laws relating to the betterment of the workspace, holidays, salary raise, health care facilities and so on, as opposed to the unorganised sector, where there are no well established labour laws. People who work for the unorganised sector are generally paid on a daily basis and forfeit their rights of questioning anything in relation to the workspace.
In an interview with EPW, Asha, a 29 year old woman who was married into the sugarcane cutting family, when she was 13, narrated her story of working in the sugarcane factories. She said that she was working hard, cutting sugar canes even during her first pregnancy. This was the time when she fell down while loading sugar canes. She was three months pregnant and since that time her health has been deteriorating. There were infections, white discharge and so on which made her fall sick very often. After giving birth to three children, she went through hysterectomy that costed her “entire life’s savings.” But the post-operation symptoms after the hysterectomy were worse and she had infections because of the lack of proper health care and sanitation. This has created an unbearable situation for her and she constantly visits her doctor, which costs her Rs 1000 each time.
The scheme that the government has promised to implement does not reach every factory across the country. There is no serious attention paid to the kind of injustice that happen in the unorganised sectors.
The situation of Beed district was taken to the court. Responding to the questions posed, the health minister of Maharashtra confirmed that about 4605 hysterectomies were performed during the past three years. EPW writes, “As per a study commissioned by the Maharashtra State Commission for Women in 2018, 36% of women sugar cane cutters had undergone a hysterectomy (Navachetana Sarvangin Vikas Kendra 2018).”
The basic feature of all labour laws is that, it applies only within the dynamics of the employer and employee relationship. But in the situation of women working in factories or construction sites, the employer or employee keep changing. Due to this constant change, there is a lack of interaction with the employer and the worker only comes in contact with an intermediary, who is also not a permanent employee.
On the 18th of December, 2008, Parliament approved the unorganised Workers’ Social Security Bill and thus converting it into an Act. The Act shall recommend formulation of social security schemes which includes life and disability cover, health and maternity benefits, old age protection and any other benefit which would be determined by the government for unorganised workers.
Despite the implementation of the Act, there is no significant change in the treatment of labourers working in the unorganised sectors. This act does not provide guidelines for the implementation and betterment of the labourers. Even the Minimum Wages Act that has being defined and implemented by the government does not include unorganised sectors. Every aspect of the benefit, hence, is used only by labourers working for the organised sector, which is why women in the district of Beed are forced to take such extreme measures.
The scheme that the government has promised to implement does not reach every factory across the country. There is no serious attention paid to the kind of injustice that has been happening in the unorganised sectors. The ones that follow the schemes only view women as “mothers or widows”, but their requirement as workers has not been discussed.
In the same interview, Dada Patil, a contractor said, “We have a target to complete in a limited timeframe and hence we don’t want women who would have periods during cane cutting”. He also added that they do not force women to get operated and it is the women’s personal choice which is influenced perhaps by their families. Interestingly, it is also known that the contractors provide women with advance to take up the surgery of hysterectomy and this money is later deducted from their salary.
But in the situation of women working in factories or construction sites, the employer or employee keep changing. Due to this constant change, there is a lack of interaction with the employer and the worker only comes in contact with an intermediary, who is also not a permanent employee.
The family feels that periods are unwanted when a woman decides to work in a sugarcane cutting factory. This is because, “A couple gets about ₹250 after cutting a tonne of sugarcane. In a day, we cut about 3-4 tonnes of cane and in an entire season of 4-5 months a couple cuts about 300 tonnes of sugarcane. What we earn during the season is our yearly income as we don’t get any work after we come back from cane cutting,” said Ugale, a labour sugarcane factory, in the interview with The Hindu.
Poverty is one of the main concerns of the society. Despite the present day government’s various ‘schemes’ to eradicate it, these violent and harsh realities that workers, especially women are subjected to goes unheard or unnoticed. The crisis that the women in the district of Beed are facing that is leading them to perform hysterectomy, is drenched in the kind of regressive social structures that we, as a society are a part of.
There is no emancipation to this violence, until the policy maker is cognizant of the kinds of ways through which one has to sacrifice a part of herself in order to please the patriarchal family and feudal landowner. Like Spivak said, the vicious cycle that continues for women oscillates between being stuck in patriarchy and feudal society, that carters to the capitalist market which doubly colonises her.
Featured Image Source: The Economic Times