Unheard Voices: Harrowing Tales From the Garment Industry

Unheard Voices: Harrowing Tales From the Garment Industry

Submitted by Subeditor on Tue, 2016-02-02 13:57 Bengaluru: “I am physically tired, under tremendous mental pressure and being harassed by the owner of the garments company I am working for,” says 42-year-old Padma, who participated in a rally of the garment workers called to bring attention to their plight on Sunday in Bengaluru.Padma and others like her represent the invisible workforce, which toils silently and ceaselessly in factories across India producing the clothes we buy from fashion giants. Yet their lives are little more than tales of poverty, misery, and exploitation.A widow and mother of two children, Padma has been working for the past five years at ECC2 Garments in Srirangapatna. But trouble started soon after she joined the labour union. “I was abused by the management, threatened by the local goondas employed by the management. And finally they registered a complaint against me and my son for speaking up,” Padma says.According to Padma, her salary has remained frozen at Rs7,500 even after toiling for five years.Due to her decision to join the union, Padma had to go through tremendous amount of mental harassment. But Padma, who stays in a one-bed room rented house, says she is battling on as she has no other choice. “I have no other option but to continue. I don’t know of any other way of seeking livelihood other than this job. I am living only for my two children,” she says.Like Padma, Sakamma narrates a similar tale of insensitivity and exploitation.A 50-year-old widow from Nayandahalli, Bengaluru, Sakamma has been working at Texport TC, Bengaluru, for the past 12 years. Her woes multiplied after she went underwent a heart operation and took treatment for her breast cancer.“The harassment started soon after I resumed work,” says Sakamma. “They did not let me recover. All they wanted was more and more work from me. I did not have any lunch break since I had to meet the high production targets.”Sakamma has two children, both of them married, but wonders how she can get by with the Rs6,500 she earns every month. “I have no leave, no respect and no fair wages. What I have is the pain which they inflict on me,” she says.Sakamma says that she had contacted representatives of several leading brands to bring to light her condition but to her astonishment learnt that the brands were happy with the garment company’s practices. “They were not ready to lose even a small amount of reduction in production,” she added.Twenty-seven-year old Sheelamani, a worker employed with Shahi Export Pvt. Ltd, told another shocking tale of harassment. “When I requested a salary hike, they accused me of theft of accessories from the accessory store which I was looking after,” says Sheelamani. “The kind of harassment I faced cannot be explained. They abused me, disgraced me and finally cut my salary for no reason.”Sheelamani says that she has been drawing the same salary of Rs7,500 even after five years. “I am not paid any extra wage for my over-time as well,” she added.Speaking to Bfirst.in, Manjula Manasa, Chairman, Karnataka State Women's Commission admitted that there had been several harassment cases against women garment workers. “It is imperative that the government amends the law so that these workers can be brought under the labour laws. We are conducting a study through Vishweshwaraiah Technical University, Belagavi, on their struggle. We will present the facts before the Labor Minister and Chief Minister of Karnataka in two months,” she said.