The Sumangali Scheme was introduced a decade ago by the owners of textile units in Coimbatore. 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 promised for Rs 30,000 to Rs 50,000 in bulk, ostensibly for their marriage. Poor parents send their daughters for these jobs, as a viable option for getting the girls married or for setting old loans. Poverty is the main factor that prompts parents to send their children to work under the Sumangali Scheme. A majority of the girls who work in the textile units of Tiruppur, Avinashi and Palladam blocks of Coimbatore are from remote villages of Tamilnadu and from the tea garden areas of Kerala. According to a study conducted by Social Awareness and Voluntary Education (SAVE), and NGO based in Tiruppur, 85 per cent of the workers are from Tamilnadu and 15 per cent from Kerala.
The employers of the textile units in Coimbatore prefer to employ young girls not only because of their ?nimble fingers? but also because they are less troublesome and are vulnerable. ?The girls are obedient and will not create any labour problem. They are dedicated to their work?.
For bringing a girl to the unit, and agent get Rs 500 per person. This amount is given after the girl puts in 15 days of service. If, by chance, the girl leaves the company, the agent will have to pay Rs 1,000 to the management. Many a times, the agent becomes the guardian of the girls.
There is a big lobby of agents in Tiruppur. There are around 3,500 textile units in Coimbatore. Parasitic agents thrive because more and more units are opting for the Sumangali Scheme.
Work in the textile units happens in three shifts. There is no tea break; instead, tea is served in the workplace, so that the girls do not waste time.
Besides in the continuous working hours the girls are subject to the verbal abuse and sexual advances of the supervisory level staff.
The ?safe and secure? working atmosphere of the company was a 10 ft x10 ft dark room, where 10-12 girls stayed with their luggage. No beds are provided, the girls had to lie down on mats on the floor. The food given is neither tasty no nutritious.
The Sumangali Scheme, which claims to be a boon for getting a girl married, is one of the worst forms of bonded labour.
The wages paid to the girls is another form of exploitation. The wages vary from company to company. However, generally the salary starts at Rs 34 per day during the first six months, with an increment of Rs 2 every 6 months. In reality, girls do not get paid anything more than Rs 30 per day. Even this Rs 30 does not reach them because Rs 15 is deducted daily towards their food and boarding charges. A few big companies offer Rs 75 as daily wages on paper. The maximum amount the girls may get at the end of the third year is around Rs 50 per day.
Certain companies offer Rs 35,000, whereas some offer Rs 50,000. The contract clearly says that the bulk amount will be given only after the completion of 6 months of training and 3 years of work. The girls are also entitled to PF/ESI and other benefits, under government norms. Besides these, every year they are entitled to 9 days, leave with wages, which includes Pongal, Republic Day, August 15, October 2, Pooja, Deepawali (two days), etc. During Deepawali, they will be given a festival bonus. During the training period, Rs 20 per day will deducted for food. All this is only in papers, no one gets these facilities.
Generally, workers? services are terminated on some petty issue, when they complete 2 years 9 months or 2 years and 11 months. Then, they are not entitled to any compensation.
Of the population of 9 lakhs in Tiruppur, approximately 4-5 lakh people are working in the garment and textile sector, the permanent workers are thrown out of jobs en-masse in Coimbatore. Thus, the number of permanent employees has come down drastically in the last few years.
Another visible practice is to shut down existing established units. Many old units are closed only to be reopened in another palce in another name with the same management. This trend is spreading to the garment industry, as well as to the power loom sector.
Recently, a Joint Action Committee of all trade unions submitted memorandum to the Government asking for intervention at the earliest, thereby saving the girls from bondage as well restoring the earlier work situation in the units and demanded for implementation of Labour Laws. This is a challenge to the Trade Unions for providing freedoms to these bonded girls and to provide them some alternative.
(The writer is President of Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and can be contacted at Ram Naresh Bhawan, Tilak Gali, Paharaganj, New Delhi-110 055; e-mail: [email protected])