( A COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES on Sumangali victims by SUBRABHARATHI MANIAN )
Published in Tamil popular magazines Ananda Viketan, Kumudam Theeraanathi, Dinamanikathir. Translated from Tamil by P.RAMGOPAL
Comrade Subrabharathi Manian has been writing fiction and non-fiction for more than three decades with passion and compassion for the workers who are destined to work under pathetic and unpalatable conditions. His writings question the silent, stagnant and stinking irresponsibility of the society and the establishment.
Subrabharathi Manian portrays the eye-wetting and heart- bleeding environment of the labourers, both men and women, almost bonded in the industries in and around Tirupur. He also focuses on child labour, labour disputes, the heartless pollution of rivers and the mindless destruction of forests.
Mr. Manian is a recipient of several awards, including the katha award from the President of India and The Best Novelist Award from the Government of Tamilnadu.
SAVE is extremely happy to publish Mr. Manian’s Sumangali, a short novel, and these stories on Sumangali victims focussing on the trials and tribulations of a teen-age girl, Muthulakshmi, caught in the mire of the ‘Sumangali’ scheme. The novel may appear, in the first reading, as a story full of pathos, but one can realize its undercurrent of radiant optimism, if one ponders over it leisurely, afterwards. Ane here lies the greatness of Mr. Manian, both as a writer and as a human being. He tells us: “Friend, life is and will always be like that only. It is your duty to stand up and fight unto the last!”
SAVE feels very proud of its continuing association with Mr. Manian and wishes him many more laurels!
Tirupur, A. ALOYSIUS
2. A WORD about THE DISEASED ‘SUMANGALIS’
“If a woman wears a T- shirt, she is a worker in a garment factory; a shirt, a worker in a mill, a lungi, a house maid, a night gown a wife in a house who is ‘solely’ made for cooking!” It’s quite a surprise how such a ‘dress-code’ has become a common notion and crept into the public mind. The dress code of the women who work in the ‘Sumangali Scheme’ is not different from those who work in the houses. They would look as though they have come to the cotton mills straight from the kitchen.
In many districts like Cuddalore, Perumbalur, Ariyalur, Tanjore and Nagapattinam, young women are roped into the schemes like, ‘Sumangali Scheme’, ‘Marriage Scheme’, ‘Kanmani Plan’, ‘Gold for ‘Thali’ Scheme’ and are made to work for more than five years. Most of the schemes cheat the innocent. Many of them escape from these schemes with their legs or hands or both cut. Nearly two lakh women are in this condition in Tamilnadu knowing no way to swim across the river of life. Those who stay until the end of the contract, face various charges. They also ‘receive’ sexual harassment. And even if they escape from these ‘awards’ they are branded as ‘Sumangali Girls’ in the marriage market and men hesitate to marry them.
The above schemes have various contract periods. Some have five years, some two years and some one year! The court and ‘The Labour Welfare Board’ have stipulated that the minimum wages should be Rs. 692. 50. Can anyone believe this? The girls get only a quarter of it! The schemes themselves pave way for exploitation! The
NGOs divide the lives of mill- workers into two periods ,B.S.S
(before ‘Sumangali’ scheme) and A.S.S (after ‘Sumangali’ scheme)
Even Thiruppur which earns a foreign exchange of Rs.30, 000 crores per year have started relishing these schemes and are exploiting people with schemes like these. Tamilnadu has witnessed so far 90 suicides of girls working under these schemes, the reasons mostly being wage-exploitation, sexual harassment, depression and tension. These include honour killings too. (The number of honour killings alone is 90 in Tamil Nadu- that’s a different story.) Even though it is said that 10% of them are trainers, 90%the young girls are labourers. These places know only two languages: exploitation and profit. Most of these people who have taken refuge or asylum in Tamilnadu are from Bihar, Odissa and Bengal. Mostly, their common language is sign language. They take asylum even in small units. The developments in technology have made larger units possible. Much of the ‘rule-breaking’ is done in the small units.
Capitalism and the Corporates have almost succeeded in converting the labourers into slaves without any safety switches like permanent job or social security ; they have converted them into contract labourers, workers on daily wage and piece-rate workers. Most of those who are affected are girls in their teens. Either all roads are diverted to cities where there are big industries or the roads have been laid anew! Those whom one can see or those who walk on them are mostly diseased young girls. For name sake only, they are, ‘Sumangalis’. (Men have different channels to escape- one of them is ‘drinking’. They are ready to ‘die’ after forty!)
Once, in the big cities, there were young men and women
f rom the South in huge numbers. Now they are joined by the crowds from North India. People from Bihar, Odissa and Bengal come in large numbers and take asylum here. A sack of ‘atta’ and a few kilos of potatoes are enough to make them bonded labourers easily.
Education for their children has become a big problem in Tamilnadu. Some social organisations and NGOs run schools for them- that’s a consolation. Otherwise, their children would easily be converted into child labourers. If they become child labourers, due to work pressure, they rot, become addicts to drinking etc easily and indulge in all sorts of crimes and become culturally, members of criminal ‘clans’
The system of branding of some sects of society as ‘criminal tribes’ by the British Government had gone. The new insignia put on the new generation are different. The ink of the seals of Capitalism and the Corporates are blacker. The blackness is a symbol of the development which this century has witnessed. This blackness makes the faces of the diseased young, ‘Sumangali’ workers still blacker.
According to law the minimum age for marriage is 18. The age for exercising one’s franchise is 18. (Leave for two nights and no work during the day time is a concession given during the polls.) These ‘concessions’ are guaranteed by law; but no law prescribes the minimum age for working. People have started murmuring! Of late, the murmurs have grown louder!
I saw recently a notice for recruiting girls: “If you join a young woman in our mill you’ll get 2gm. gold coin; if you join five, you’ll get 12gm; for ten it is 24gm. You’ll also get Rs.1000/= as commission!”
The ‘marketing culture’ has cut deep inroads into all aspects of our life. They are rough. A few of the diseased sumangali*s I’ve met on these rough roads are the heroines of these short-stories!
*sumangali : a happy married woman
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