Sugar makes a part of our everyday life, sweets prepared using sugar was distributed to relatives and friends on the occasion of festivals and good moments. We don’t care to know the adverse conditions of the workers, particularly the female, whose hard work makes it possible for us to add sweetness in life.
Female workers in western Maharashtra’s sugarcane fields routinely face abuse and rape by landlords and middlemen who enslave them through debt bondage claims the social activists.
The female workers are often forced to undergo sterilization or a hysterectomy so they do not get pregnant from the repeated abuse, and can work without a break.
“There is no human rights violation worse than having to remove your uterus so you can enter an informal economy that does not care for you,” said Bhatnagar regional manager at ActionAid in Mumbai, which has surveyed dozens of female sugarcane cutters in Beed district.
However, a spokesman for the sugar factories’ cooperative denied the allegation saying “We have not heard of any such instances,” and “If they are unhappy with the wages or the conditions, why would they keep coming back?” he added.
Around 500,000 rural poor migrate to Beed, Solapur, Kolhapur, Sangli and Satara districts every year to cut sugarcane.
Child labour is rampant, and because only couples are hired, girls are married before the legal age of 18. The women often suffer miscarriages and those with children are told that sterilisation or a hysterectomy is the only fix, said a social activist.
The women are generally unaware of the risks of doing hard manual labour soon after the surgery, and the effects of the procedure at a young age, they said.
“It is the worst form of slave labour, and women suffer the brunt of it,” said the activist who spoke on condition of anonymity as she did not want to get the workers in trouble.