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A story of Courage in the face of Abuse and Intimidation – Women working in the Clothing Mills

A story of Courage in the face of Abuse and Intimidation – Women working in the Clothing Mills

Mrs.Somari Samad a post-graduate from Chakradharpur, in West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand was a young teacher in the village and earned Rs 3000/- per month but as a local policy permitted only one or two people to seek a civic job, she lost her source of income and found herself in a very helpless situation. Newly Married and now unemployed she was desperately looking for a way to earn a livelihood, fortunately, with the help of some local networks, she was able to go to Tamil Nadu where she started working at Annur Cotton Mills from July 9th, 2019.

The Nationwide Lockdown was imposed in March 2020 to control the spread of the Coronavirus. While a huge amount of effort was directed to contain the virus, the weeks that followed also saw a rise in cases of atrocity, physical and verbal abuse and intimidation towards workers in different sectors. Women particularly in the industrial sector were among those most affected by such acts. The Control Room, Jharkhand has prioritized such instances and provided immediate aid to the people affected. Such calls of desperation and fear are still being made to the Control Room as many employers continue to take advantage of the vulnerability of the workers by not paying them their wages and not even letting them leave.

On June 7th Somari Samad was one such worker who made an urgent call seeking immediate help from The Government of Jharkhand after she and 57 other girls were being threatened and physically assaulted at the worker's place of residence. In her call to the Control Room, she described a culture of othering and intimidation that was prevalent right from the beginning. Somari had a labour intensive job where she had to operate heavy machinery and lift heavy boxes every day for an 8-hour shift and was able to make only 3-4 thousand from it per month. The occasional overtime from 4 pm -8 pm earned her an additional three thousand rupees, but very rarely did workers make more than eight thousand per month.

This culture of discrimination and exploitation prevailed even at the living arrangements made for the workers where girls from the North had to pay Rs 1800/- at the Hindi mess vis-à-vis the Rs 1200/- charged at the Tamil mess. People who worked on shifts would get milk while others did not. Meetings were held every Sunday to instill fear and intimidate the migrant workers by the use of indecent, abusive language and other such mechanisms to control the workers. While speaking to the Control Room, Somari explained that the lockdown had further amplified their troubles. They were supplied with low-quality food and their breakfast was now reduced to 2-3 Idlis every morning, only one nutritious meal given to them during lunch.

The same tactics of intimidation and violence were used to suppress those that raised complaints and also to scare others from revolting. She very specifically narrates to the Control Room that once during an altercation with the company, three-four girls were physically assaulted, verbally abused and threatened. Out of other options the women reached out to their families in Jharkhand and with the help of the Village Mukhiya, they received the number of the helpdesk. On receiving the call and hearing about the problems faced by the women the Control Room realized the gravity of the situation and the courage these women had to make the call and knew they had to respond immediately. The very next day arrangements were made for their travel to Erode Station from where they boarded the Shramik train to Jharkhand. As a result of the quick action taken by the Control Room 37 women were able to return home on June 8th, 2020, many others decided to stay back and return after the lockdown restrictions were relaxed.

After reaching home safely, Somari expressed her gratitude to the effort put in by the control room, the state government, and everyone else for their quick response to the problems she and her colleagues faced. She has also urged the state to extend further help to 26 of her male colleagues, who aided their female colleagues and are still subject to ill-treatment. She is now in the process of looking for work in Jharkhand and plans to stay here for the foreseeable future.

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