Legal intervention, advocacy, counselling, medical assistance to be given apart from alternative livelihood
The meeting held here on Tuesday to discuss the plight of the ‘Sumangali Scheme' victims has decided to initiate multi-pronged strategy to get adequate compensation for the victims even while making a representation to the government to end what they called “the most horrible programme being followed by a group of textile units in the guise of helping poor unmarried girls.”
The strategy included legal intervention, systematic and sustained campaign, advocacy, counselling, medical assistance to the victims, ensuring alternative livelihood and so on.
Following complaints on the exploitation of girls in some of the textile units of Tirupur, Erode, Coimbatore and Dindigul districts, Palayamkottai based non-governmental organisation, ‘Vaanmuhil' conducted a survey in Tirunelveli, Tuticorin, Virudhunagar and Sivaganga districts.
These districts send a large number of girls to work in spinning mills under the ‘Sumangali Scheme' that promises Rs. 30,000 at the end of the third year of service along with the monthly wages.
During the survey, the enumerators met 1,638 women – either the girls recruited under the scheme or their parents, especially their mothers – with 105 questions to elicit their views.
In Tirunelveli district, the survey was conducted in Alangulam, Kalakkad, Melaneelithanallur, Paappaakudi, Cheranmahadevi, Maanur panchayat unions, while similar study was organised in Kovilpatti, Kayathar, Srivaikuntam, Tiruchendur and Tuticorin unions of Tuticorin district.
Likewise, Manamadurai and Thirubhuvanam unions of Sivaganga and Sivakasi and Rajapalayam of Virudhunagar districts were brought under the survey net.
For the commission
The survey revealed that the touts, who get a commission up to Rs. 2,000 per girl, targeted poor girls between the age group of 13 and 18 from backward, most backward and Scheduled Caste communities with poor educational qualification, as they can work hard continuously for 12 hours and even more and not complain about working conditions, poor sanitary conditions, ill-equipped dormitory, inferior food quality etc.
Though they were forced to work overtime, they were getting only between Rs. 10 and Rs. 50 for the additional work.
Apart from not being allowed to avail the weekly off, the workers would be allowed to talk to their parents over the telephone only in the supervisors' presence and they cannot even move around freely.
There are allegations of the girls being subjected to physical and sexual torture.
Most of the spinning mills terminate the services of these girls by levelling fake charges towards the fag end of their contract period so that they need not be given the assured sum of Rs. 30,000 or Rs. 40,000 inspite, the survey said.
To put an end to this scheme, ‘Vaanmuhil' organised a discussion which suggested that a 15-member committee comprising of educationists, social activists, animators of women self-help groups, rural local body leaders, NGO representatives, trade union leaders etc. be formed to look into this problem and exert pressure on the government so that the scheme would be abolished in future or allowed to be continued with a monitoring committee conducting periodical social audit over the execution of the scheme by meeting the labourers.
While the committee will help the victims get adequate compensation and the sum assured from the textile units, legal assistance will be extended to the victims to get legal remedy, compensation and also assistance for an alternative livelihood, which should be ensured by the government.
Victims suffering both physical and psychological trauma will be helped with proper assistance provided by qualified personnel, the resource persons at the meeting said.
State vice-president of AITUC Kasi Viswanathan, Director of ‘Vaan Muhil' M.A. Britto, Associate Professor of St. Xavier's College, Palayamkottai, Arockiya Raj and Payal Saxena, Advocacy and Communication, Every Child, Bangalore are some of the resource persons who participated in the discussion along with the victims or their parents.