Maharashtra cane-cutters’ ‘forced’ to remove uterus, govt sets up probe panel

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Published: July 12, 2019 2:14:12 AM

Maharashtra Rajya Ustod Mukadam Vahtuk Sanghatana president Srirang Bhange said that nearly 8 lakh workers participate in the crushing season of the state, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Gorhe said that immediate steps must be taken to resolve problems faced by the cane-cutter community. (Representative image)Gorhe said that immediate steps must be taken to resolve problems faced by the cane-cutter community.
(Representative image)

The Maharashtra government has set up a committee to look into allegations that sugarcane-cutter women workers in Beed district are being forced to get their uterus removed to avoid taking breaks from cane-cutting during menstruation. The committee is expected to submit its report by the end of this month.

Many women cane-cutters in drought-affected Beed allegedly go in for a hysterectomy as they have to pay a fine to the contractor if they take a break from cane-cutting during menstruation.

The state government has also decided to conduct a survey on “atrocities” against women in the area after the National Commission for Women (NCW) wrote to the Maharashtra chief secretary over reports of forced hysterectomies.

State legislative council deputy chairperson Neelam Gorhe, who chaired a meeting on the issue and is also a member of the newly-formed committee, has directed the labour department, sugar commissioner and health department to ensure that cane-cutter women are provided basic sanitation and health facilities.

Gorhe had raised the issue last month in the Assembly after which cabinet minister Eknath Shinde admitted that there had been 4,605 hysterectomies just in Beed district in the last three years. But, he said, not all of them were carried out on women who worked as sugarcane harvesters.

Every year, tens of thousands of poor families from Beed, Osmanabad, Sangli and Solapur districts migrate to more affluent western districts of the state — known as “the sugar belt” — to work for six months as “cutters” in sugarcane fields. Many of these women end up with hysterectomies since they cannot take breaks from cane-cutting during menstruation.

The NCW has described the condition of the women in Maharashtra as “pathetic and miserable” and asked the state government to prevent such “atrocities” in future.

Gorhe said that immediate steps must be taken to resolve problems faced by the cane-cutter community.

“The labour department must gather information on availability of toilets in sugar factory premises and provide mobile toilets wherever required,” said Gorhe.

She added that the health department, labour department and the sugar commissioner must ensure health check-ups for cane-cutters before the start of cane crushing season. She added that men and women cane-cutters must be paid equally and mobile hospitals must be deployed near sugar factories.

Sugar commissioner Shekhar Gaikwad said a circular will be issued with regard to health conditions of cane-cutters at the start of the season and details shall be sought on sanitation facilities provided to workers.

He said that he had insisted that contractors or sugar factories should hold three health check ups for cane-cutters – at the start of the season, during the middle of the season and after the end of the season.

We have also sought details from the health and labour department on the mandatory requirements other facilities that should be provided to such workers, he said.

Maharashtra Rajya Ustod Mukadam Vahtuk Sanghatana president Srirang Bhange said that nearly 8 lakh workers participate in the crushing season of the state, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Usually, a couple takes up the contract for Rs 1 lakh to Rs 1.5 lakh during a season which lasts for six months and the ratio of workers is 50:50 for men and women. Of the eight lakh workers, around 3.5 lakh are from Beed alone, he said, blaming local doctors for such practices. He, however, denied that women were forced to go in for surgeries.

Five organisations — the Maharashtra Mahila Arogya Hakka Parishad, the Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch, the Ekal Mahila Sanghatana, the Jan Aarogya Abhiyan and the Bharatiya Mahila Federation — took up the issue and recently convened a meeting to discuss the way forward.

The organisations demanded that the state government should regulate private hospitals and form a sugarcane workers’ board.

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