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Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  
Service95 “Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  

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“Women Don’t Get To Be Decision Makers Of Their Own Bodies” – The Indian Farm Labourers Fighting A Hysterectomy Epidemic  

Revita Vishnu Sakhre doesn’t know her exact age, but she has spent nearly all her life – at least five decades, she estimates – working as a labourer on the sugarcane fields in the western Indian state of Maharashtra.  

Her last name – Sakhre – means ‘sugar’ in the local language of Marathi, a testament to her family’s generational connection to the land, producing sugarcane. “I was born and raised on the sugarcane fields,” she says. “When was old enough, but still a child, I was married to my husband who also worked as a farm labourer. After our marriage, I joined him in the trade of sugarcane cutting.” 

Farm labourers are recruited by contractors in Maharashtra during the harvest seasons. It’s a physically demanding job, says Sakhre. “I sacrificed so much of my physical health,” she tells Service95.  

“Sugarcane cutting is an extremely laborious task, especially for women who are expected to gather large bundles of the cane that the men chop, tie together, and load on to trucks or tractors. The activity can have serious effects on the body,” explains Trupti Malti, a researcher and activist with Mahan, a local NGO that works with the local communities, including farm labourers. “Aside from the intense labour, they are also forced to live in squalid conditions with no access to clean water or hygiene. Women lack access to reproductive healthcare, and many work while being pregnant and deliver on the fields using farm equipment.” 

As a result, an increasing number of women farm labourers in Maharashtra are undergoing hysterectomies – the removal of the uterus – under the misconception that it will improve their health. “When women farm labourers go to clinics with problems related to their reproductive systems, they are advised [by the medical professionals] to remove the uterus,” says Malti. “They are made to believe that is the source of the problem. Many are even told that they may get cancer if the problem is not addressed.” 

“There is a lack of awareness about such surgeries,” warns Malti. “Some [women] believe that the surgery will free them from reproductive ailments and allow them to work longer hours.”  

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Private clinics, Malti speculates, may also be exploiting the lack of awareness and agency. “Private hospitals encourage these surgeries. What they do is tell the husband that if [the wife’s ailments] are not cured, it might be cancer. They will put that fear in his mind, then women face pressure from the husband and his family to undergo the surgery. Women don’t get to be decision makers of their own bodies,” she says.  

A study by the Maharashtra State Commission for Women showed that the rate of hysterectomies among women in Beed, Maharashtra was 36%. The national average is just 3%. 

Noticing this rise among women in her community – “some as young as 22” – Sakhre decided to get involved, via the Sugarcane Workers Association. Speaking to them, she “realised how bad the situation really was, especially for women workers. I volunteered to help to raise awareness about not only health issues, but also the exploitation of labourers,” she says. “The more women I met, the angrier I got. I began to realise how unfair the entire system was towards labourers, but more so towards women. I have worked all my life in the farms – my body was destroyed with this work – but even today I can’t afford to visit my daughter [who lives in a neighbouring city].”  

Sakhre now mobilises women labourers from across districts to join protests demanding for rights and benefits guaranteed to them within the law. “We are not asking for anything we have not already earned,” she says. “This industry exists and profits because we broke our backs.”  

As of 2023, India was the world’s second largest producer of sugar, around a third of which is harvested and processed in Maharashtra by low-paid labourers such as Sakhre.  

Farm labourers are recruited by contractors, in pairs known as koyta – a colloquial term to define a unit of two labourers, usually a married couple, during the harvest season. The payments – of around Rs 70,000–Rs 100,000 (around £666–$952) are made in advance, and the koyta are expected to provide work equivalent to the amount.  

However, low wages and unfair terms of such contracts often result in families being forced into debt and even indentured servitude to the contractors. Hysterectomy surgeries – costing Rs 35,000–Rs 60,000 (around £332–£570) – can push them further into debt. 

“We deserve a salary, we deserve pensions, and compensation for those women who lost their uteruses due to misinformation,” says Sakhre. “This is what I want to make the younger women who are in sugarcane harvesting to be aware of.”  

Malti says local activists such as Sakhre play a crucial role in raising awareness among women – not just about their rights as labourers, but also about bodily autonomy. “The women are rising,” Malti says – a warning to those exploiting power. 

This reporting was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Howard G. Buffett Fund for Women Journalists 

Ruchi Kumar is a freelance journalist based in India. She has previously lived and worked in Kabul, Afghanistan, and writes about the region for publications including The Guardian, Foreign Policy and NPR 

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