At a women’s health conference, district’s cane-cutters narrate their ordeal; Sena MLC Manisha Kayande writes to CM, demands action against perpetrators
An ongoing conference organised by a group of NGOs on women’s health issues is trying to draw the state government’s attention to an alleged hysterectomy racket run by several private doctors in and around Beed district. Demanding justice, some of the victims are attending the conference at Mumbai Patrakar Sangh to narrate their ordeal, even as Shiv Sena MLC Manisha Kayande has asked Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to intervene and direct the authorities to identify and prosecute the doctors who purportedly carry out these surgeries by making these women believe that their menstrual signs are symptoms of cancer.
A surgery to remove all or a part of uterus, hysterectomy is carried out when a woman either has uterine complications, cancer or is at the risk of cancer. Mostly employed as sugarcane cutters in Maharashtra and Karnataka, scores of women from Beed lose four to five days of wages every month due to menstruation. With low literacy and awareness in this section of society, land owners and contractors are known to encourage them to undergo hysterectomy to do away with their monthly period. Blinded by greed, even private doctors pass off menstrual symptoms as cancer and force women to remove their wombs. The racket had first hit the headlines a decade ago and caused nationwide outrage.
Asha Jogdand, 28, is attending the conference in Mumbai with her three children. A resident of Kasari village in Beed, Jogdand’s uterus was removed four years ago when she experienced vaginal discharge, weakness and body ache. “I was forced to take a loan of Rs 30,000, which I am still repaying. Meanwhile, my husband met with an accident and it has made our financial situation worse,” said Jogdand, narrating how a private doctor had told her that she runs the risk of getting cancer if she didn’t undergo the operation. “After the surgery, my health woes have increased and the doctor has nothing to say to me. He has given me tablets that cost me Rs 400 to Rs 500 per month which is very expensive. The government should take some action against these fraud doctors,” said Jogdand, who works for six months as sugarcane-cutter in Karnataka.
Chhaya Doke, 32, from Dokewada underwent hysterectomy 12 years ago. She has four children, three of them school-going. Doke’s period was irregular and she tried going to a government hospital but long queues forced her to see a private doctor. “After undergoing hysterectomy, my health is as bad. I have body ache, my knees pain all the time and I am unable to take sugarcane load on my head. I want to ensure my two daughters don’t meet the same fate,” she said, adding how she discourages younger women in the village from listening to doctors. “But the fear of cancer is so high that nobody wants to take any chance,” she said.
Sheela Waghamare’s story is the same. She got married at the age of 12 and was operated at 19. Now 32, she said she had no idea what the surgery was about. “They just told me I have three children and removing the uterus should not be a problem. I feel cheated and helpless. My only expectation is that the government should prevent these doctors from ruining other lives,” Waghamare said.
The conference these women are attending in the city has been organised by Ekal Mahila Sanghatana, Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch, Jan Arogya Abhiyan and Bhartiya Mahila Federation. Manisha Tokale from Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch, who brought some of the victims to attend the conferebce, lamented government apathy. “They know the issue at hand. They know who the doctors are and it has been happening for a long time now. There has to be some strong action against the culprits to curb illegal hysterectomy,” said Tokale.
Dr N Chincholikar, who works in a government hospital in Beed, accepted the state failure to prevent the malpractice. “After the issue was recently raised in the newspapers again, we issued guidelines for the hospitals to perform the surgery. We are surveying the villages mentioned in the news reports and verifying the facts. Awareness is necessary among all women, whether they are sugarcane cutters or housewives. We are roping in Tata Cancer Hospital for the drive,” she said.
Shiv Sena MLC Manisha Kayande alleged that sugarcane cutting contractors are handin-glove with the doctors who encourage this illegal practice. “It was witnessed in many cases that these contractors do not give any concession to women during menstruation and encourage them to remove the uterus. They also provide loans for hysterectomies and then recover the money from their salaries,” Kayande alleged and added she has written to the CM asking him to immediately intervene.
According to Dr Suchitra Dalvi, a gynaecologist, “Women avoid visiting government hospitals because of long queues. Many private doctors have taken advantage of this situation and pressurised women to undergo hysterectomy. The resolution to the problem needs a multi-pronged approach along with awareness,” she said.
Doctors and representatives of NGOs at the Mumbai conference
Women without wombs
Almost a decade ago, several private doctors in and around Beed reportedly started creating fear psychosis amongst cane-cutting women over their menstrual symptoms of abdominal pain and vaginal discharge. They tricked them into believing that it could be cancer and forced them to undergo hysterectomies for Rs 30,000 to Rs 35,000. For this, the victims had to take loans from landowners. This led to nationwide outrage in 2010. The vicious cycle is still a widespread problem in the region.