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Trail of workers’ suicides and deaths in South India’s textile spinning mills

15 February, 2018In the latest incident, on 6 February Dharshini Balasubramani’s body was found in the hostel at Dollar Spinning mills in Tamil Nadu.

Barely eleven days before her 14th birthday, the child labourer from Kalkudi village in Puthukottai district committed suicide in her hostel room. On the day before her death, Dharshini worked 16 hours, in two continuous shifts from 8 am to midnight.

After working these shifts, she was asked to report for the morning shift at 8 am. When the hostel warden knocked on her door at 6.15 am, there was no reply and she was found hanging from the ceiling fan.

Dharshini, who lost her mother and lived with her father and a brother, was recruited through an agent and brought to the mill hostel only three months ago. Before being shifted to a room with ventilation and sunlight, for two and a half months she stayed in a basement room with four girls from the same village.

She was paid Rs 260 (US$ 4) per day. It is usual practice that girls staying in the hostel must work continuously to fill the spaces of absentees.

Representatives of Tamilnadu Textile and Common Labour Union say that recently, many workers’ deaths have been reported. T Manjula (33) allegedly died in an accident at SMP Textiles in Nilakottai, Dinidigul district. Manjula lived with a son aged 12 and two daughters aged 11 and  9.

N Kalaiyarasi, a 14 year old girl, who went to work in Dindigul Cotton Spinning Mills despite suffering from pneumonia, died on 3 October 2017 in hospital. She returned to work after a hospital visit to avoid losing her Rs 2,700 (US $41.52) bonus, paid to workers who worked during the Diwali festival.

An activist worker, Sebastin Inbaraj (24), an assistant fitter in Prabhu Spinning Mills, reportedly committed suicide on 15 May 2017 after factory managers accused him of theft and he was abused and beaten in front of his colleagues. Apparently, he supported women workers to fight for their wages and demand their rights.

On 10 March 2017, a 17 year old girl was found dead in her room in the Ganapathy Spinning Mills compound in Vellakoil in Tirupur district.

In the 2016, more suspicious deaths were reported. A girl was found dead in a spinning mill at Vellakoil on 10 March, and Azhagu Sumathi was found dead on 14 March in Vadipatti village.

Most of these workers are from families of poor agricultural workers. Agents pay an advance to the family to recruit girls to the mills. Even if they want to leave, they cannot go home until they have paid back the advance.

They face harsh working conditions, poor health facilities and sexual harassment at work. With scant government oversight, managers flout the law and workers have no way to address grievances. Managers strongly resist unions, and take advantage of the poverty of workers’ families to close the issue by paying meagre compensation.

Apoorva Kaiwar, South Asia regional secretary of IndustriALL said,

“It is unacceptable that women workers in spinning mills face dangerous working conditions. It is alarming that many suspicious deaths are reported. The government should step in immediately to address the issue.”