My last fact-finding and it is to Dausa, a small rural community near Jaipur, Rajasthan. Cespi and Anisa join me, and we illicit stares getting off the train and looking for a hotel.
Man, is it hot. Fortunately, the hotel we do manage to find has air conditioning and dark tinted windows which is worth something even in the face of rolling power outages.
We came because the papers are reporting that doctors are performing hysterectomies on uneducated women in the area, just to make a buck.
Our first day we meet local advocates who take us to a village where first it was one woman, then two, then as many as eight women who had had hysterectomies at private clinics after complaining of stomach pains. Diagnosis and operation were in the same day, hours apart. And their stomach pains remain.
The women were in a pack, first they stood and watched and then they squated and watched. Women answering very personal questions for each other with no privacy. Her story is the community’s story. There is no sense of boundaries. Let me interrupt you to tell them what really happened to you.
“What is your age?” becomes an existential question. What is my age, she will repeat to you. You tell me, she responds or maybe she will say, you are looking at my age. She says, I am not really this old, I am sick that is why I look so old.
Literacy drops from a national average to a state average to a basic yes or no question. Can she read, can she, can she? The literacy rate drops to zero so quickly as you leave the town, the pavement, the road. As you leave the ThumbsUp and the Limca. As you leave the market, leave the autos and trucks.
Still the fabrics the women wrap themselves are so colorful. This one woman, the first we talk to, captures my attention. There is a familiarity to her face. I see Heather, a friend from Anchorage. But here there is mournfulness that I have not seen before, a heaviness, a sorrow, a widow at twenty-eight with three children and no uterus.
Still, the woman I see Heather in has enthusiasm and joy. It lingers in me all day and gives me strength and reminds me of the other world that I live in. And the two worlds alternate as I blink. My world never seemed so extravagant as talking to women who would not even sit besides us on the charpai (bed frame with a woven mattress) but would prefer to squat on the ground.
The second day I stay behind at the hotel with a belly ache. We joke about going to the private clinics to get their diagnosis. Would my uterus be bulky too, would my uterus have to be removed?
One advocate puts it simply: the mindset is such that anything wrong with a woman must stem from her uterus.
A friend once told me he had never traveled overseas because he believed once he saw the weight and the heartbreak of what was here, he would never be able to turn his back on it.
Well, I’ve seen it. Over and over again. And I have a ticket back. But where does that leave me when I return?