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On Monday, Al Jazeera reported that in the central region of the Maharashtra state in India, the city of Beed has performed more than 4,500 unnecessary hysterectomies over the past three years. A farmer and a mother of two known as Pushpa was 26 years old when she experienced heavy bleeding during her period. She took medicine for two years, until a doctor advised her of a more serious ‘cure’, as reported by Al Jazeera. Pushpa became one of many women whom underwent a surgical procedure to remove their wombs in the villages of the Beed district. Women are becoming ‘womb-less’ either voluntarily or through coercion. Often doctors exploit women in order to generate profit, due to the surgery being expensive, and there is also the idea that menstruation impedes on the labouring work carried out by women.
However, within the underbelly of Indian culture there continues to be a problematic relationship between urban areas and menstruation, with periods remaining a taboo subject due to archaic ideas excluding women from religious and social events, the BBC reports. Menstruation not taught as biologically inherent is endangering women and allowing medical professionals to exploit women for their own financial gains. Dr Shashikant Ahankari, president of the HALO Medical Foundation, said that “some unethical clinics, whose main purpose is maximising business, advise hysterectomies by telling women that their ailment may turn cancerous […].” He added that “there are socio-economic and medical malpractice angles to the story […].” This is explained due to the idea of a womb becoming futile once children are born. The hysteria spread amongst women by doctors, cane contractors, and the patriarchal system has meant that thousands of women are forced to undergo life-changing surgery that affects them for the rest of their life. If not forced, the taboo of periods causes women to feel as if they have no other choice but to stop the natural process of menstruation, through the removal of their wombs.
Sugarcane cutting is the main source of income in Beed, and with hysterectomies becoming the norm, cane cutting contractors are now unwilling to employ women who menstruate, according to The Hindu Business Line. As contractors are reluctant to hire women, owing to the assumption they miss a day or two due to their periods, women who often lack education, are from poor families and have no agency over their own bodies are forced to make irreversible chances to their bodies in order provide for their families. As women in these villages often have two or three children by the time they are in their mid-20s, doctors and cane contractors exploit this, with Medha Kale of Tathapi Trust, a women and health resource centre adding, “these women, from poor and marginalised sections, bear the brunt of the patriarchal exploitation […].”
Due to the lack of education surrounding periods, they are massively misunderstood by both women and men in Beed; they are considered unnatural and problematic. When something within a culture becomes a ‘norm’, it is hard to break the mould and step back and assess the situation in order to address any dire consequences that are occurring because of it. Therefore, due to hysterectomies becoming the ‘norm’ in Beed, this practice is not being properly confronted allowing for women’s bodies to be exploited by a system of patriarchy and greed.
Last month, Maharashtra Health Minister Eknath Shinde spoke during an Assembly meeting in the State Legislative Council to report that the “Government has set up a committee headed by the principal secretary of the Maharashtra health department which will conduct a probe […]”, into the forced hysterectomy incidents that are happening to thousands of women in Beed – reported by India.com. Although this appears to be a positive step for the women of Beed, the biggest issue that still needs tackling is the problematic relationship rural India have with menstruation. Both women and men need to be educated on menstruation in order to break the taboo, and ambition needs to be created for women in order to break down the customary barriers of patriarchy that is allowing unscrupulous doctors and ruthless contractors to exploit women’s bodies. Women should have a right to bodily autonomy, and if the health board of Maharashtra does not successfully conduct an enquiry, the taboo of menstruation is not broken and women are not emancipated from the oppressive patriarchal system, then women’s bodies will continue to be exploited to boost productivity and unnecessary and dangerous hysterectomies will continue.