“The Indian textiles and garment industry India plays an important role in the global textiles and
garment industry. It is the second largest producer of textiles and garments and one of the few
countries that covers the whole value chain - from the production of cotton to the last stitches1.”
According to the Indian Ministry of Commerce, 51 per cent of the total textile exports in 2000-2001,
were from the garment sector alone. Nearly 80 per cent of Indian clothing exports go to the USA and the EU where they face quota restrictions. The Textile industry in India has several vast sectors within it, viz, the mill sector, the clothing or garment sector, the handloom sector and the power loom sector.Each of these sectors employs millions of workers and also contributes significantly to the national economy. The developed nations no longer produce goods that could be produced in so called developing and lesser developed nations through abundant of cheap labour. The easing of MFA (Multi Fiber Agreement) in recent years cleared all the decks for the second and third rung nations to become work houses/ garage/ shopping alleys for many of the activities of the developed nations.The garment sector, however, has emerged as the most globalized sector in the world today. This sector alone employs about 3.6 million workers. A large segment of the garment sector comprises of a vast domestic market, while another significant segment caters to the export market. Most of the units producing for exports are in Tirupur (Tamil Nadu), Delhi and Mumbai.
Within this context Tamil Nadu ranks high in its establishment of industries and factories which
is currently servicing the textile industry linked to retail stores across Europe and feeding into the
Indian economy. Textile Industry of Tamil Nadu is the forerunner in Industrial Development and in
providing massive employment in the State. It is predominantly Spinning-oriented. The State Textile
Industry has a significant presence in the National economy also. Out of 2049 large and medium
textile mills in India, 893 mills are located in Tamil Nadu. Similarly, out of 996 small units in India, 792 are located in Tamil Nadu. The 893 large and medium textile mills include 18 Cooperative Spinning Mills, 17 National Textile Corporation Mills and 23 Composite Mills. The spinning capacity is 14.75 million spindles2.The industries and factories are predominantly established in the Coimbatore, Dindigul,Erode, Tirupur, Theni and Viruthunagar Districts of Tamil Nadu. In these places the buzz word is industry-friendly.
Globalization encourages contractualisation and informalisation of production and economy
leading to severe exploitation of the workers. The textile and clothing industry is one of the worst
affected in this respect. In Tamil Nadu majority of the textile and garment workforce is women and
children. Among them women workers in Textile mills are about 65% mostly unskilled workers. The
age group of the workers is predominantly in the range of 14 to 21 years. There are child labourers
both girls and boys in the age group of 11 to 14 years and workers in the age group of 21 to 30 years are in fact a minority segment among the total workforce.
1 AEPC (Apparel Export Promotion Council) website, “Fact Sheet”.
2 Tamil Nadu State Statistics (2008-09)
Sumangali thittam situation in Erode District
It is within this context Sumangali thittam was born.Called by different names—“Sumangali scheme,” “Mangalya Thittam”or “Subhamangala Thittam”— various cotton textile spinning mills under this contractual bind promised young girls that “if they worked for three years, they will get Rs 30,000 each at the end of the third year (besides wages3).” On the face of it, the scheme looks quite simple and attractive. Jobs are given to young, unmarried girls, mainly between 16 and 20 years of age, for a period of three years. On completion of three years, the girls are given ranging from 30,000 to Rs. 50,000 in bulk, especially for the purpose of their marriage. Poor parents send their daughters for these jobs, as a viable option for getting the girls married or for settlings old
loans. Dowry, still being the largest of problems in the country, the parents feels that by getting a lump sum under Sumangali Thittam, they would be able to give dowry at the time of their marriage. Many of these girls, from the poverty-stricken and remote villages of Tamil Nadu and Kerala and with no other alternative employment opportunities, fall prey to a new system of bondedness in the name of the Sumangali System in the textiles and garment units of Tamil Nadu. These girls are mostly
from the dalit caste groups, predominantly"
Arunthatiyar community is at the lowest in the caste hierarchy; their socio-economic condition is quite pathetic; this sometimes compels Arunthatiyars to send their children as coolies to different industries.This apart, these people fully rely upon certain local money lenders for getting money for which they in turn pay back more not only in terms of money but also in terms of laborious labour.
Push and Pull Factors: Sumangali thittam
The following factors are push and pull factors leading to the Sumangali System: poverty and illiteracy of the parents/family; tactics and mushrooming of brokers/brokerage agencies; dominance of age-old belief that for a girl marriage is the ultimate; parents of girl need to save for her marriage and dowry; low wages and undignified work at native village for poor and marginalised; less number of days of work (no regular work) in the villages; work in spinning mills and garment considered easy and decent (under a roof, no scorching sun, with accommodation and food facilities). Adolescent, unmarried young girls of 14 to 18 years of age are preferred in the textile and garment industry for their efficiency in work output. Also the employers are eager to recruit unmarried women in the age group of 18 to 25 years. They have no bonus and they are denied legally entitled EPF, ESI
or any other payment but they are promised an assured sum at the end of the scheme year, and are promised a lump sum at the time of their marriage. According to the AHRF study, only 30% of the girls had gone beyond eighth standard. Most were school dropouts which also show the massive need for guaranteeing education for these young children.
4 A Study to understand the situation of Arunthatiyar girls employed under the Sumangali Thittam Scheme in Coimbatore,Dindigul, Erode, Tirupur, and Viruthunagar Districts-Tamil Nadu (AHRF: 2009)
Study conducted by Arunthatiyar Human Rights Forum (2009) covered 250 girls from age group of 14-18 years to understand the impact of Sumangali thittam on young girls in Tamil Nadu. a)175 Girls who
previously worked in Sumangali thittam b) 50 Girls who were still working under the Sumangali thittam
c) 25 Girls who were willing to enrol under the Sumangali thittam.
Nature of work involved long hours of standing (around 12 hours) and working with bare hands operating dangerous machines. Nearly all girl children were forced to work and faced verbal and physical abuse.
1/5th of the girls working were illiterate. 48% of the girls were enrolled into the scheme through the
agents residing in the area. 98% quoted ‘poverty’ as the reason for joining the Sumangali Scheme.
Nearly half of the girls had worked or had been working with an agreed amount of INR 30,000/- for a period of 3 years.
Sumangali thittam: Working conditions
The implementation of Sumangali Scheme in the textile industry has brought about so many changes in the style of its functioning. The working condition in the previous set up was meant for the adult workers, adhering to all legal procedures and conducive for increased productivity in the mill. The present context of the textile factory is implemented violating all Labour Welfare legislations and taking no measures towards safety, protection and security for workers. Since, the workers of Sumangali scheme worker is a child, not a member of any trade union hence there are no strikes or lockouts in the factory and factory keeps functioning as no complaint is raised against any violation of law or human rights or labour rights. "With girls, it is easy to keep discipline", says factory management, they would be less inclined to form unions than boys. By restricting the movement of workers, the company effectively prevents the girls from reaching trade unions. "Boys would never keep to that rule, they want to go on the streets,always wanting more freedom. Girls are simply happy with what you give them" explains factory management.5
Wages: A considerable amount is deducted from the workers' wages to pay for food and to save for
the dowry6. A large number of girls under the scheme had worked or had been working with an
agreed amount of Rs. 30,000/- after an agreement period of three years. The lump sum amount had
been revised year after year and about 4% of them were working for Rs. 50,000/- to be given after the agreement period of 3 years.7
Forced to work: In the AHRF study all children stated that they were forced to work. This is against the Forced Labour (ILO Convention) Act. The force reasons also are compulsions of the poor and marginalised families who have huge debts to pay off or are a large family to be able to survive on the meagre and erratic income of the adult members.
Abuse and violence: Majority reported on verbal abuse, shouting and verbal lashing by the
employers. Due to overwork and lack of sleep the workers become exhausted. There have been
many complaints of poor food quality. In March 2009, 24 girls working at the Sathyamangalam unit
were admitted to the hospital for food poisoning. Three girls later died.8 Most of these girls end up
working for long hours mostly around 12-14 hours a day. The time for lunch and dinner breaks is very short, mostly around 20-30 minutes and this being the only break which the girls get in the 12 hours shift. There is no break for rest during the day.
Health Hazards: Due to the harsh working and living conditions some of the workers don't make the three-year mark and leave the factory earlier due to health reasons. Lack of sleep and overwork lead to exhaustion of the young girls. In some cases the girls do not receive the money they have built up so far because they are forced to leave the work before the stipulated period. Because the workers don't receive an employment contract only an appointment letter - it is difficult to check, what exactly has been promised to them and to undertake action. According to the AHRF study, 61% of the girls had a stressful living environment thereby experiencing a psychological tension during their period of employment in textile industries. Further, 10% of the girl labourers had skin problems. More than 1/3rd of the girls had gynaecological issues and most were anaemic.
Food and Accommodation: The girls have migrated for work and are housed in dormitories located on the factory complex. Majority stay in the dormitories. Only a small percentage work in day shifts and return to their homes. According to the AHRF and the ECJ study, the Hostels are usually cramped and have poor ventilation and have poor hygiene. Each dormitory is shared by an average of 12-15 girls at a time and is reused by different girls after each shift. The walls of these factories are barricaded and it is impossible for anybody without permission to enter or exit this walled complex and 5 Trapped in Chains: Exploitative working conditions in European fashion retailers' supply chain (European Coalition for Corporate Justice: 2010) 6 Ibid 6
7 A Study to understand the situation of Arunthatiyar girls employed under the Sumangali Thittam Scheme in Coimbatore, Dindigul, Erode, Tirupur, and Viruthunagar Districts-Tamil Nadu (AHRF: 2009)
8 Tamil newspaper Kalai Kathir, reported on one of the deaths, Erode edition, 19 March, 2009
leave is restricted to a few days a year when the girls are allowed to visit their families. Workers are
thus severely restricted in their freedom of movement.
TPF(Tiruppur peoples forum)
It is collective network fighting for labours rights ,enviralmental rights and sumangali thittam issue
READ is a committed grass roots organization in Sathyamangalam, Erode district, Tamil Nadu. It
focuses on the development of vulnerable children from Arundhathiyar community. The office is
located in Satyamangalam, Erode District, Tamil Nadu. Currently READ is working in 75 villages of
Satyamangalam Taluk with children of Arunthatiyars. It is a member of Arunthatiyar Human Right
Forum (AHRF) Tamil Nadu State level Advocacy Network. It participated in the 2009 study on
Sumangali thittam mentioned in this concept note.
· Prevent Arundhatiyar children in districts in Western Tamilnadu from entering bonded labour,
from being trafficked for labour, protect child workers from sexual violence and prevent
children from being forced into child marriages.
· Rescue children who are already in bonded labour or working in the textile industry, or are
being abused and discriminated within communities. Families and schools are protected, and
ensure the rate of children losing pare care in Western Tamil Nadu reduces.
· Establish strong institutions, organisations or networks of children and Arundhathiyar women
that will work towards the protection of their rights and entitlements.
· Rescue of children from textile industry factories and farms.
· Providing psychosocial care for the children rescued.
· Establishing activity centres in villages and developing supplementary education programmes
such as vocational training or special coaching for children at risk.
· School dropouts and children who are rescued from bonded labour are provided with intensive
coaching support in the bridge school (interim school between being rescued and going back into
mainstream school) and enrolled back in to the mainstream schools after the coaching at age
· Forming Child Rights Protection Committees at village level in project locations to provide care,
protection and rescue/rehabilitation of children at risk of being or forced into bonded labour
system or being married at early ages.
· Empowering local self government (Panchayat leaders) to promote community based caring
systems for the children without parental care.
· Promoting and strengthening of Arundhathiyar women’s groups and federating them at block,
district and sub-regional level through facilitating capital formation amongst this vulnerable group
and enhance community ownership of the project
· Lobby and assist with local self govt. to create a community caring system at the Panchayat level
to rehabilitate orphaned or separated children
According to Mr. Karuppusamy Director, READ: “ the young girls under Sumangali thittam are living a
tragic life, they need to be rescued and guaranteed the right to education and lead a life free of
exploitation and abuse; the state must ensure their rehabilitation and ban the practice of Sumangali
thittam. The right to education act should be effectively implemented and monitored”.
· The practice of Sumangali thittam and employment of children in the scheme should be
· The child rights violations of girls under Sumangali thittam should be explored through a fact
· The employer exploiting children under this scheme should be punished in accordance with
Criminal Law and Prevention of Atrocities against SC/STs.
· The children aged below 14 years who are working as child labour in the textile industries
should be rescued and admitted in school as per the recently passed Right to Free and
Compulsory Education for Children.
· The Government has to strictly implement the labour related laws and rules of ILO convention
and UN child rights convention.
Special guest invited:
Erode corporation Mayer
Erode district level panjayet president
For details contact:
Director (READ –rights education and development centre)
Address: 27/1 Muniyappar Street
Pin Code: 638402
Erode District. Tamil Nadu,