Fortnightly-Feb 01-15-2011 SAMAKALATHIN MUGAM
( PUTHIYA PARVAI means New Vision )
( SAMAKALATHIN MUGAM means Contemporary Face)
Sumangali Thittam ? (Thittam=scheme)
Scarred women of Cotton-mill
Para 1,2 &3
In various cotton -mills of Tamil Nadu, as per the Department of Labour Welfare Department 38000 and as per the Labour Unions and Non governmental Organitations’ statistics 400000 young women are working under the scheme ‘Sumangali Thittam’ . These women are given low wages for more work ; no extra wages are given for their over-time work and are compelled to continue in work. They are forbidden from getting the rights of workers under the Labour Union movement. Less sleep, physical tiredness and sexual harassment are the other tortures suffered by them.
In the Indian economy, the cotton industry has acquired a very big place. This industry’s share in the’Industrial Production’ is 14% and it is 5% in the Gross National Production ; as foreign exchange income based on the National Income of production it is 20% which is in the field of garment manufacturing industry. As per the 2009 statistics of the Tamil Nadu government alone there are 839 working units of cotton based mills here. Thus, the cotton based industry trumpets every where ,even in small villages.
The lure for running knitting industry in Tamil Nadu, which began in Tirupur has spread even to small villages. Today this industry is beginning to dominate even the agriculture based localities, like Gobichettipalayam. People are hunted in clusters for work, from various places by giving separate bus transportation facility to them. Agricultural workers who are lured by cotton mill work and joining there are being extracted work and are thrown out as a trash latter.
Due to the introduction of th ‘ free trade’ policy in 1996 in India, the number of working women(labourers) has increased in the cotton-mill industry. ‘Getting more work for paying low-wages ‘ was the motive of the owners of the industry. As per the rules and regulations of the Labour Act, this kind of their motive was not reachable. Later, a Women Worker’s Welfare Commission which was formed by the Tamil Nadu Government recommended the ‘Sumangaly Thittam’ and that was the cause of the breach of the above labour law. As a bonded-labour type of scheme, this Sumangali Thittam is aimed at and is being implemented, specifically among the unmarried young women. To purchase more work at low pay is it’s motive.
This scheme was first introduced in Udumalpet of Tirupur district and was extended later to places of Tirupur, Coimbatore and Dindigal districts. As per this scheme, a promise is given that at the end of the third year of service, a sum of Rupee 30000 will be given to the young woman who worked under this scheme by a contract.
The parent of a girl child have great happiness in arranging a marriage for her when she has grown and see her go to live with her husband. This kind of act is sweeter than honey for them. But, to these people who are in the clutches of poverty , though it is their duty, the burden of arranging marriage for their daughters is heavier than that of a mountain. For this reason, many a parents stop the studies of their girl children in the middle of the course and send them for work..and the brokers are always there in search of these people.
The brokers say to the parents in attracting words , “ Look here, don’t worry as you have given birth to female children; for you relief only there is the scheme called ‘Sumangali thittam’ ; send your daughter to work for 3 years ; she would get hostel accommodation, boarding in canteen and when she completes the period and comes out from work, we would give rupees 30000 towards her marriage “.
Labour union leaders as well as social service activists say that this is a new type of bonded-labour scheme. As these workers are striving hard in the cotton mills, they have a situation of meeting their parents only once in six months which is like the condition of a caged parrot.
When the Coimbatore Social Research Centre had conducted a research study on this matter about the working environment, type of existing cruelties on them and the health problems of the women and children working in the cotton mills at Erode, Coimbatore, Tirupur. Dindigul and Virudhunagar where the Arundhatiyar community people live in large and had found out that only those who are under the conditions of poverty, debt burden and unemployment are the scape-goats for this scheme. In specific, among those who work under the ‘sumangali scheme’ 70% are of scheduled caste (S.C) communities; of this percentage, 40% belongs to Arundhatiyar community and the rest of 30% belongs to other S.C community people who are poor.
For bringing women to work under this scheme, the brokers get Rupees 3000/woman. For doing this research a sample of 250 Arundhatiyar girl workers were selected, 50 from each district. According to them, many have come to work under this scheme due to their family circumstances. Many parents have put their daughters under this scheme because of their inability to arrange marriage for them. 10% of the Arundhatiyar community women workers were below the age of 14 years; 9% of them were illiterates and only 30% of them have studied up to 8th class.( standard/grade).It has come to known that 48% of them have joined work through the brokers; further, 86% of them work for more than 8 hours per day. It was clear that 8% of them work for 12 hours to 16 hours and they are compelled to do so; In the work-place, 82% of them were in tears as they were scolded with harsh words by the supervisors ; 5% of them have informed that there were incidents of sex harassment on their fellow workers.
Among these workers, 23% have said that the food they are supplied with, the bath room and lavatory facilities are bad. Most of them, don’t get benefits like bonus, provident fund, gratuity and medical aid.
It is a torture that even after the completion of the contract term of work, 11% of them are not even paid, Rupees 30000 which was promised by the owners . Though it is said that ‘sumangali thittam’ is meant for the marriage assistance of the young women, many of them have lost even their normal life due to this scheme. As examples for this, we can refer the lives of Thulasimani and Devi who are deserted now.
. Thulasimani belongs to Arundhatiyar community who had to stop her studies due to her family circumstances, after doing 4th class; at the age of 18 years she was fluttering like a young bird and with many dreams in her mind she joined in work under the ‘sumangali scheme’. But it is a pity that at the age of 22years, she has the appearance of a 62 year old woman. She says that just to avoid giving burden to her parents on her marriage, she had chosen the work under this scheme. But now she feels vexed that she could not get married hereafter to anybody, because she is very weak and unable to walk even. She has become a burden to her parents now. She states, “ As I had to do the work standing all the time(in the work place) my leg muscles got twitched and now am unable to walk”. Further she told that they didn’t get leave other than week-end holidays; even on these holidays they were given different kind of works to do; the owners extracted work even from those who were asleep after awakening them.
Devi belongs to Periyur, a village near Sathyamangalam town. There was engagement for her marriage when she had completed her term of service under the ‘Sumangali Thittam’. Just before a week to her marriage day, she suffered a stomach-ach and was admitted in an hospital. The reason for her illness was that while she was working in the mill, cotton-dust had entered her body through her breath. Her proposed marriage itself was stopped due to this reason.
Mr. Narayanasamy , the Director of the ‘Social Research centre who conducted a study on this scheme has said that it is nothing but ‘Bonded labour scheme’ has been given a nick name as ‘Sumangali Thittam’ and it is favourable to the owners of the mills and unfavourable to the workers by shattering the dreams and future of many young women.
Many shocking news were got when enquiries were made on this scheme with 250 persons belonging to 5 different districts. According to him, it being a torturing scheme , it should be banned; recommendations of the ‘Visaka’ committee should be implemented instead which would protect the safety of the working women; the women who under the scheme ‘sumangali thittam’ should be absorbed as permanent workers or else the Government should give guarantee for their livelihood; this could be the ultimate solution for the sufferers. Further he says that if the Government’ is ori ented towards the wellbeing of these workers, it should ban this scheme immediately.
For receiving further details of this scheme, when Mr.Karuppu samy who belongs to the Arudhatiyar Human Rights Organization was enquired, he gave the following details:- Brokers are aiming at the people of Arundhatiyar community because the latter are economically backward; Devi and Thulasimani who were affected by this scheme were not even given the Provident Fund. The owners of the cotton mills had refused to give funds for their medical expenses too.
Today there are many people striving for to get money even towards their medical expenses as those of the cases of Devi and Thulasimani; it is not known why this situation is not felt by the eyes of the Government; On this matter four researches were conducted by the Arundhatiyar Rights Development Centre ; the affected women were sent to represent their grievances in an enquiry which was conducted by the Women Rights Commission. Further he said that this scheme should be banned, otherwise the life of many young women would be under the question mark.
Different workers’ unions had unitedly fought for and brought-forth higher wages and holiday provisions to the regular workers. The owners of the mills who were affected by these provisions began to recruit women in great numbers in order to reduce the amount of expenses towards workers.
It is, as per the Labour Act that women should not be engaged in work after 06.00 P.M in any industry. To over come this problem, the owners of the mills had thought of a plan and filed a case in the court of law, which relates on a demand that women should be given equal rights to work in mills at par with men workers. This brought an amendment in the labour act that has benefitted the owners. By this correction in the act women are being employed in all sorts of work as those of men -workers . As per the labour act, pregnant woen should be given leave with wages. The sumangali scheme, which was recommended by a commission formed by the Government itself, provides a means of evasion to the owners from the above situation; it induces them to employ unmarried women in large numbers (instead of married women/ men workers) in their industries.This situation is favourable to the owners and unfavourable to the people.
The labour-unions and the voluntary organizations opine that this scheme is a new sort of ‘bonded labourer’ scheme. Even then, a promise is given that those who are employed under this ‘sumangali Thittam’ would be given Rupees 30000 to Rupees 50000 after the completion of the third year of work.