It’s a strict hostel life for these garment workers

In hostels, where hundreds of women working in garment factories stay, there is a sense of an inescapable prison-like atmosphere.

Vehicles ferry them to their workplaces, two garment factories nearby, and when they are dropped back there are rules that prohibit them from going out (even on holidays).

CCTV cameras record their every step, while the rooms have no doors to allow wardens to keep an eye. The use of mobile phones has been banned and conversations with their families have to be done through a payphone.

Only family members are allowed to visit and they have to be pre-approved by the company.

With Hassan under the grip of an agrarian crisis, two garment manufacturing units have provided employment to women from nearby villages. But, in this socially-conservative rustic belt, where women are often not allowed to study in towns or move away from their families, the only way, it seems, they are allowed to join a factory is if the companies take up the role of guardians.

“We live like bonded labourers,” a woman employee in the hostel said.

These restrictions are applied only to women and, in particular, to single women “for their safety”.

Nearly 2,000 women work with Himatsingka Linens and around 200 with Precot Meridian at the industrial park on the outskirts of Hassan town.

Vijaya, a resident of a village near Hassan, used to work in one of these factories. “We would only see the hostel, the vehicle and the workplace daily. Our families could be contacted only through payphones or phones given by the wardens. When we get married, we lose our jobs as we won’t be allowed to live in the hostel anymore,” she said.

Even on their days off, the women are allowed to go out only when escorted by a family member (whose pictures are provided to the companies at the time of employment).

For the companies, these restrictions have to be placed if girls are allowed to work here.

“Most girls are from rural areas and their families will not send them here unless they have some assurance about their safety or that incidents like elopement will not happen,” says Vinod K.B, Associate Vice-President (HR) of Himatsingka Linens, during a tour of a hostel, where 700 women employees live. Smartphones “invite” trouble and so have been banned, he adds. Inside, there are no fans to prevent any “untoward incident”.

“If anyone says we are too strict, I would treat it as a certificate of appreciation,” says Mr. Vinod.

The ‘guardian’ role is extended to the women’s education too. Himatsingka Linens said that it has a tie-up with Karnataka State Open University in Mysuru, where the women can study while working.

At Precot Meridian’s hostel, smartphones are allowed, and there is freedom of movement, says HR manager N. Shivashankar.

The local Labour Department says they can’t act unless there are complaints from employees.

But, for most women, the confinement comes out of necessity. “We are a family of five and we have a three-acre rain-fed land. The farm income is not enough for us and my family will not let me study in a city college. But, they are comfortable with me working in a company where women are put up in such restrictive hostels,” said an employee from Arsikere taluk. Her salary of ₹8,000 is critical for the family.

One employee said that she could join only after her parents were convinced after seeing the “safety precautions”. “I knew of the restrictions, but I also know that I will have to put up with this only for a few years until I get married,” she said.

In the hostel, a woman visits her daughter and asks her about her well-being.

When their conversation ends, the mother, before leaving, tells the company representatives: “Limit her phone use. Don’t give it often...But do increase her salary.”

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Printable version | Apr 18, 2021 9:14:52 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/its-a-strict-hostel-life-for-these-garment-workers/article25161039.ece

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