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zReportage.com Story of the Week #759: TUESDAY October 27, 2020: 'India's WOMB ROBBERS' from ZUMA Press award winning photographer Chloe Sharrock of Le Pictorium who specializes in women's rights in the developing world: Menstruation has long been taboo India, where menstruating women are believed to be impure and are still excluded from social and religious events. Recently these archaic ideas have been increasingly challenged, especially by urban educated women. A vast majority of women from poor families, with little or no education, are forced to make choices that have long-term and irreversible impacts on their health and their lives. In Maharashtra state thousands of young women have undergone surgical procedures to remove their wombs. In many cases they have done this to get work as sugarcane harvesters. This has turned several villages in the region into ''villages of womb-less women''. Welcome to: 'India's WOMB ROBBERS'
© zReportage.com Story Summary: zReportage.com Story of the Week #759: TUESDAY October 27, 2020: 'India's WOMB ROBBERS' from ZUMA Press award winning photographer Chloe Sharrock of Le Pictorium who specializes in women's rights in the developing world: Menstruation has long been taboo India, where menstruating women are believed to be impure and are still excluded from social and religious events. Recently these archaic ideas have been increasingly challenged, especially by urban educated women. A vast majority of women from poor families, with little or no education, are forced to make choices that have long-term and irreversible impacts on their health and their lives. In Maharashtra state thousands of young women have undergone surgical procedures to remove their wombs. In many cases they have done this to get work as sugarcane harvesters. This has turned several villages in the region into ''villages of womb-less women''. Welcome to: 'India's WOMB ROBBERS'
Laborers in a sugarcane plantation near Mangoan. Thousands of young women have undergone surgical procedures to remove their wombs in the past three years. In a substantial number of cases they have done this so they can get work as sugarcane harvesters. Periods have long been a taboo in the country, menstruating women are believed to be impure and are still excluded from social and religious events.
© Chloe Sharrock/Le Pictorium via ZUMA Press
MANISHA GAYABAI SATHE, 27, had a hysterectomy when she was 21. A first public doctor told her to get medicines and rest, while a private doctor told her that her uterus was 'infected' and 'swollen' and had to be taken out immediately. After the surgery, she was only given a bill with no mention of the surgery.
© Chloe Sharrock/Le Pictorium via ZUMA Press
VANDANA KHANDALE, 30, had a hysterectomy when she was 28 after consulting a surgeon from the private sector because of excessive bleeding. It was her 'mukadam' or contractor that advanced her the money for the surgery with an interest rate reaching 60% after a few months. She's still paying it back today, and her health issues have only worsened since the surgery.
© Chloe Sharrock/Le Pictorium via ZUMA Press
A bundle of sugarcane from a plantation in Karnataka State. During workdays of sometimes more than 16 hours, men and women cut the sugarcane relentlessly. Women then gather the canes in bundles of several dozens of kilos each, before carrying it to a truck that will leave for the factories once filled with almost 30 tons of sugarcane.
© Chloe Sharrock/Le Pictorium via ZUMA Press
INDRABAI SADHU WAGHMARE, 50, has been cutting sugarcane since she was 14 years old, the year she was married. After three pregnancies and sterilization when she was 28, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and had a masectomy. A few years later, while consulting a private doctor for stomach pain, she was told that her uterus was infected. She had a hysterectomy four days after, and feels severely weakened since the procedure. She can't work anymore, so her daughters and sons now join her husband in the fields.
© Chloe Sharrock/Le Pictorium via ZUMA Press
Knives used to cut sugarcane, called a 'kiota' lay on the ground in a sugarcane field.
© Chloe Sharrock/Le Pictorium via ZUMA Press
A sugarcane cutters camp, near a plantation. The living conditions are particularly harsh for the women, without basic infrastructures such as toilets or showers, women often have hygienic issues leading to infections. The workers migrate from plantation to plantation every few weeks for up to five to six months. During this migration period, the workers have no access to health facilities and no medical assistance in case of emergency.
© Chloe Sharrock/Le Pictorium via ZUMA Press
Mrs A. WAGHMARI underwent a hysterectomy 8 years ago in a private hospital. She was never given any medical report, and was charged 30,000 rupees. Since then, her health issues worsened. She had to take her two daughters out of school in order to get help in the fields to still be considered as efficient. In India husbands and wives are hired as a unit, known as a 'kiota', which also designates the knife used to cut the canes.
© Chloe Sharrock/Le Pictorium via ZUMA Press
Laborers in sugarcane plantations in Karnataka State. Everyday, during workdays of sometimes more than 16 hours, men and women cut the sugarcane relentlessly. The work is particularly exhausting and physical, especially for the women who have to carry extremely heavy weights on their heads.
© Chloe Sharrock/Le Pictorium via ZUMA Press
ASHA, 29, a sugar cane cutter from the Beed region had the first of her three children at 14, she gave birth to her second child in the middle of a plantation, prematurely due to the intense physical work. She underwent a hysterectomy at age 27 after unresolved gynecological complications. The operation was performed by a private doctor, who has not given him any medical report following the procedure. Weighing only 34 kilograms today, her health problems have worsened since the operation. Asha calmly describes the devastating consequences of life in the sugarcane camps living with poor hygiene, sexual assault and violent husbands.
© Chloe Sharrock/Le Pictorium via ZUMA Press
Children work in a sugarcane plantation in Karnataka State. The sugarcane cutters often have no other choice but bring their children with them during their long months of migration. Children are therefore either left alone all day, or end up working with their parents in the fields. For young girls, they become easy targets for sexual harassment or child marriage.
© Chloe Sharrock/Le Pictorium via ZUMA Press
A group of sugarcane cutters from Beed District in an open truck, migrate to the state of Karnataka to start the harvesting season in the plantations. Every year, they travel in trucks in which up to 24 people can fit. The journey can last for more than ten days, despite burning sun or heavy rains. They regularly stop by the road and sleep in their trucks, before taking the road again the next day. The nomadic nature of this work leaves the women particularly vulnerable.
© Chloe Sharrock/Le Pictorium via ZUMA Press
A young girl gathers freshly cut sugarcanes in a field near Mangoan, in the state of Karnataka. Forced to migrate for several months, the workers often have no other choice but bringing their children with them, inevitably lowering the education rate and increasing the risk of child marriage.
© Chloe Sharrock/Le Pictorium via ZUMA Press
SAVIVTVI TONDE, 31, had a hysterectomy at 28. Like many women in India, she was married at 14 years old, had kids and was sterilized at 25. When consulting a public doctor for stomach pain, she was prescribed medicines and rest. Once consulting a second doctor, she was told she had a tumor in her uterus, and was advised to get a surgery straight away. Although this doctor this doctor worked in a public hospital, he operated her as a private one in his own clinic and charged her 35,000 rupees for the surgery. She wasn't given any medical report. She payed for the surgery with an advance by her mukadam, that she is still paying back today.
© Chloe Sharrock/Le Pictorium Agency via ZUMA Press
The scar left after a hysterectomy. The surgery was performed by a surgeon from the private health sector, on a young woman that didn't need to be operated on. Recently in India thousands of young women have undergone surgical procedures to remove their wombs. In a substantial number of cases they have done this so they can get work as sugarcane harvesters. Periods have long been a taboo in the country, menstruating women are believed to be impure and are still excluded from social and religious events.
© Chloe Sharrock/Le Pictorium via ZUMA Press
DR THORAT (center), Beed's Civic Surgeon, performs a necessary hysterectomy in his public hospital. Private doctors must ask for his approval before performing any hysterectomy, a measure implemented by the Indian government following the investigation of coerced hysterectomies among sugarcane cutters. The measure has only been implemented in Beed district, hysterectomies are still unregulated in other areas. When interviewed, Dr Thorat denies any abnormalities in the region, despite surveys showing an alarming hysterectomy rate of almost 40 percent in several villages.
© Chloe Sharrock/Le Pictorium via ZUMA Press
Human rights activist MANISHA TOKLE talks to a man while she visits sugarcane cutters of Kasari Bodkha. For more than a decade, Tokle has been fighting for farmers and laborers rights in the region. She meets regularly with sugarcane cutters who had a hysterectomy to collect their testimonies about their health. In this small village alone, more than 15 women cutters had a hysterectomy. Tokle was among the activists that exposed a scandal of forced hysterectomies among sugarcane workers. Her work forced the government to form a State Committee to conduct official surveys in Beed District. So far, the Committee has only issued recommendations with no sanctions implemented.
© Chloe Sharrock/Le Pictorium via ZUMA Press
SHEELA MANIK WAGHAME, 32, had a hysterectomy at when she was 20 after stomach pain. She first consulted a public doctor that advised rest, before consulting a private doctor who ordered to perform the surgery on the very same day. According to him, her uterus was 'bulky' and there were risks of cancer. She had to borrow 40,000 rupees to her mukadam for the surgery, and needed several years before managing to pay it back. Her pain has only increased since the surgery, that she deeply regrets doing.
© Chloe Sharrock/Le Pictorium via ZUMA Press
PRADIP SHIRANG BHANGE president of the 'Sugarcane Labor Union of Maharashtra' overseas all contractors (mukadams) working in plantations. He holds a form sent by a private doctor at Asha hospital to several mukadams stating the hospital promises a commission in exchange of every woman sent to the hospital to perform a hysterectomy. When asked if that form was communicated to the State Committee in charge of the investigations, Pradip answers that 'the Union never dared showing them that letter because of a paralyzing fear of retaliations by the prominent Private Health Sector's strong lobby.'
© Chloe Sharrock/Le Pictorium via ZUMA Press
Portrait of KANATAKE, lit by a truck nearby while he awaits for workers to join him. Kanatake is a field contractor or 'mukadam'. He hires over 500 workers in the region annually, before dispatching them in various plantations of the 'Sugar Belt' in the south of the country. After the revelation of the hysterectomy scandal in May 2019, activists accused mukadams of forcing the women to get such surgeries in order to stop them from menstruating and therefore be more efficient in their work. Kanatake admits regularly advancing money, with a skyrocketing interest rate, to some of his workers to perform the surgery.
© Chloe Sharrock/Le Pictorium via ZUMA Press
Peering from a window, both daughters of A. Waghmari had to quit school in order to help their mother in the sugarcane plantations after her hysterectomy left her weakened. The sugarcane cutting tradition is often passed on from one generation to the next, with young children often being caught up helping their parents in the fields at a very young age.
© Chloe Sharrock/Le Pictorium via ZUMA Press
USHA TONDE was married at 14 years old and had three kids, at 16, 17 and 18 years old before being sterilized. In India female sterilization is the most popular form of contraception. After suffering bleeding and pain in her joints, a private doctor told her she had a ''swollen'' and ''useless'' uterus, and operated her the next day. Since the surgery, she suffers from bladder problems. She didn't get any medical report or surgery papers. She asked the hospital for her medical report, but still received no answer.
© Chloe Sharrock/Le Pictorium via ZUMA Press
A young child lays on a blanket while her mother works in the sugarcane plantationsin Karnataka State.
© Chloe Sharrock/Le Pictorium via ZUMA Press
The Ramesh WAGHMARI couple, sugarcane cutters since their teenage years. Despite the cutting season usually starting in October, they're still waiting for their departure date towards fields in the south of the country. This year has seen the worst monsoon since 50 years, and many plantations were left totally flooded which delayed the harvesting season considerably. The wife underwent a hysterectomy 8 years ago in a private hospital and was never given any medical report, but was charged 30,000 rupees. Since then, her health issues worsened. She had to take her two daughters out of school in order to get help in the fields. Only the husbands receive a salary, leaving the women totally dependent of them.
© Chloe Sharrock/Le Pictorium via ZUMA Press
Plantation workers carry bundles of sugarcane to waiting trucks, in Karnataka State.
© Chloe Sharrock/Le Pictorium via ZUMA Press
A trailer load of almost 30 tons of sugarcane leaves a plantation to be emptied in a factory nearby. It will then immediately go back to the plantations to be filled again. This constant flow of work prevents the workers of getting proper rest, especially for the women who have to not only do the heavy field work, but also get all the household tasks done in between.
© Chloe Sharrock/Le Pictorium via ZUMA Press
Husband and wife sugarcane plantation owners stand in one of their sugarcane fields in Maharashtra state.
© Chloe Sharrock/Le Pictorium via ZUMA Press
ZUMA Press Contributing Photographers

ZUMA Press Contributing Photographers and Newspapers partners have photographed the lead up to the Rio Olympics 2016. (Credit Image: © ZUMAPRESS.com):759



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