Early October in Maharashtra, a state in the west-central part of India. Recruitment is in full swing for the sugar cane cutting season which will begin in the south of the country, 500 kilometers away. It will last six months, and employ over a million workers. The recruitment agency, the “mukadam”, is paid by the estate to take them by the whole family to the so-called “sugar belt” region, in the neighboring state of Karnataka. On site, they are responsible for ensuring their productivity.
Half of the workers are women, who have been working in the fields since the age of 10. Working conditions were harsh: getting up at 3am to do ten hours of work in the hot sun, with only one day off per month. In this farming area, around the Beed district, many of them are suffering from mysterious diseases investigated by the “Special Envoy”.
In the sugar belt, 36% of farm workers no longer have a uterus
Here, one in three women no longer have a uterus. Often in their 20s, they undergo a total hysterectomy (with removal of the ovaries), which is very rare for such young women. At 30, they look 50 years old, face and body aging prematurely. The surgery causes very early menopause, stops hormone production and makes her infertile. Why do so many women undergo this procedure with serious consequences? To find out, the “Special Envoy” team followed the farm workers in one of the tents set up by the sugar factory, without running water or electricity, where they would stay during the harvest semester.
Reka is 20 years old and is already thinking about having her uterus removed. He complained of recurrent and severe pain. He was constantly tired and his stomach hurt a lot. Many sugarcane loggers are in the same situation, saidmukadam. He took their advice to have the uterus removed, specifically to avoid cancer (low risk, but branded by doctors in the area to justify the intervention). Then they can return to work in the fields. Operation costs are their responsibility. While being treated at the hospital, they did not receive a salary, said the Mukadam.
“If they don’t take it off [leur utérus], this is a problem for us. They are less productive. And if they have cancer, they are useless.”Jyotiram Andhale, Recruitment Officer
for “Special Envoy”
“Our recruiters yell at us if we don’t work hard enough, entrusting the women to the journalists, seizing the moment when the men go to deliver the day’s pieces to the factory. It also hit us really hard. Even when we were going really bad, he hit us. Mukadam shouted at our husbands that we weren’t working hard enough, and we had to pay back our wages.”
Therefore, it would still be productive if these women lost their wombs. More children, more periods… and more pain, according to the mukadam, who seems to regard a hysterectomy as a trivial operation. In other parts of India as elsewhere in the world, however, it affects nearly 3% of women, and is generally only performed on patients over 50 years of age.
Thousands of sugarcane cutters, experiencing this pressure and fearful of losing their jobs, have allowed themselves to be convinced to undergo irreversible surgery. The sacrifice of their bodies to face forced labor in the fields – is very useless, because their martyrdom will only worsen with early menopause.
Excerpt from “The Sacrifices of Sugar”, investigation to see in “Special Envoy” on May 19, 2022.
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