ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Manufacturing the ‘Ideal’ Worker

Gendered notions of productivity limit women from self-identifying as equal and worthy workers.


According to press reports, contractors in Beed district of Maharashtra are unwilling to hire women cane cutters because, in their imagination, women who menstruate are likely to take breaks from work and this may adversely affect productivity. In fact, irrespective of sex, any breaks taken by the contracted labour results in their incurring heavy financial penalities. As a result of such prohibitive contracts and the reality of heavy dependence on seasonal work, about half of the women in some villages of Beed district have undergone hysterectomies. While contractors emphasise the “voluntary” nature of such medical procedures, the women report that it is the contractors who loan them money for the surgery and then recover the amount from their wages.

It is well known that in the informal sector in India, most occupations dominated by women are undervalued and underpaid. The case of the cane cutters in Beed only goes to illustrate that women are forced to lose an organ to even qualify as productive, let alone be considered equal or skilled labour. Not only are they coerced into bearing severe health consequences of the surgery, the monetary cost of being female is also recovered from them. The devaluation of women’s labour is also accompanied by casteist and patriarchal notions of purity and pollution where women are prohibited from certain jobs, especially in the food processing, sericulture, and garment industries. Do employers even consider labour human? And, if they do, who is physically qualified to be considered a “complete worker?”

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Updated On : 22nd May, 2019
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