Government urged to cancel lock-and-seal order

Traders of hundreds of stores on Usman Road, Ranganathan Street and in Pondy Bazaar downed their shutters on Thursday expressing solidarity with stores that were locked and sealed in the recent drive of the CMDA and Chennai Corporation.

Representatives from traders' associations of Usman Road, Ranganathan Street and Pondy Bazaar gathered on Ranganathan Street, but after the police inspector told them that they had not obtained permission to hold a public meeting, the traders held their meeting indoors.

At the end of their meeting, the associations issued a joint appeal to Chief Minister to cancel the ‘lock and seal' orders and allow the stores to function, citing livelihood issues of several thousand persons employed in the stores.

The shamiana put up beside Rathna Stores on Ranganathan Street and the group of traders gathered there drew many curious passers-by.

But for a group of men standing outside a store on South Usman Road, it was much more than a matter of sheer curiosity. They were concerned about their future course, with questions such as “How long will our stores be closed?”, “Should I go back to our village?” and “Should I find another job” daunting some.

“Most women employed in many of the sealed stores have returned to their villages. They got their salaries for October. They will possibly return if the stores are opened again. Otherwise, they have to find other jobs,” said a young man employed as salesperson in a leading apparel store. The outlet he works for has not been sealed, but other outlets of the same group were sealed in the recent drive. “They say more stores will be sealed. We don't know,” he said.

His friends employed in some of those stores had begun leaving as well. A few considered “valuable employees” were paid extra and retained. Stores have other strategies, too.

One store on a sealed complex on Ranganathan Street has put up a notice saying the shop now functions from the complex on the other side of the road. “They have readied their godown and sell their new stock from there,” said an employee at the neighbouring store.

Such alternatives may make the employees optimistic for they have come to Chennai leaving their families behind in the villages. What really attracts the youngsters to join the stores in T.Nagar?

“When older boys employed in these stores in Chennai come to our villages during festivals, we would be stumped. Their shiny shirts, jeans pant and stories about working in AC throughout the day enticed me,” said Muthu*, who did not study after class X.

Consciously defending his employer, he says it is all comfortable since they get “food, water and uniforms.”

“We all stay in a cramped place, yes. But we go to our rooms only to sleep.” Their duty is from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. “We get three meals a day. The food is okay, but even if a morsel is wasted, we get yelled at.”

A big store typically follows the hierarchy of helpers, salespersons, “in-charge”, floor supervisor, manager, general manager and owner. The helpers, who get paid a couple of thousand rupees clean, sweep and mop the store. Salespersons' role is to show customers all choices in their preferred range. About four to five salespersons report to an “in-charge”, who reports to the floor supervisor.

All the floor supervisors report to the managers, who, in turn, report to the general manager, usually an experienced, loyal employee of the store.

According to Ravi*, most of them in that cadre come from Tirunelveli, Tuticorin, particularly from places such as Ambasamuthiram, Alangulam, Thathankulam and Udangudi.

In all probability, when Muthu goes to his village in Tirunelveli to celebrate Pongal, his shiny shirt, embroidered jeans and stories about his air-conditioned workplace will draw the next batch of young lads.

(*Some names have been changed on request)