Even in the 21st century, a country like India still lays in the backdrop of social hindrances and the vicious circle of poverty. With a major chunk of people still remaining below the poverty line, people still die of hunger and lack of basic necessities in life. A very similar plight is suffered by the girls and young women in Tamil Nadu.
Under an extremely rampant scheme titled ‘The Sumangali Scheme’, innumerable young girls and women are employed to work in the garment industry, wherein they are promised a decent wage, comfortable accommodation and a lump-sum amount of money upon the completion of a three year contract, which thereafter is used to pay for a dowry.
However, underneath this highly attractive and apparently comfortable situation, are its sharply contrasted consequences. Excessive overwork, low wages with no assurance, no access to grievance mechanisms or redress, restricted freedom of movement and limited privacy are part and parcel of the working and employment conditions under this scheme. Following the same, the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) and the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN) have conducted a report titled ‘Flawed Fabrics’ which shows the plight of these workers facing miserable labour conditions and are being forced work in the export-oriented Southern Indian textile industry.
A July 2012 update issued by SOMO and Dutch NGO India Committee of the Netherlands states the efforts that are being made to cease the Sumangali Scheme in Tamil Nadu. Where a number of brands have backed out themselves from suspicious suppliers, some of the most upmarket brands like Diesel, Marks and Spencer, Ralph Lauren, Quicksilver, Mothercare, Next and GAP are amongst those who still employ poor girls who are indebted to be credited with a lump sum amount of money for dowry.
As many as 35 million people are employed in the textile and the clothing industry in India and the maximum manufacture takes place in Tamil Nadu. To bring forth this picture to a larger amount of people, SOMO and ICN conducted a ‘Maid in India’ report which features case studies of four large Tamil Nadu-based garment manufacturers that produce for the European and US markets.
The most striking and highly disagreeable feature of the Sumangali Scheme is the fact that it is synonymous to bonded labour. Employers are unilaterally holding back part of the workers’ wages until three or more years of work has been completed. Moreover, these workers are also restricted some basic freedoms of movement and privacy. SOMO, ICN and a number of local workers and NGOs now work extensively to completely denounce the Sumangali Scheme as unacceptable, and ensure that sourcing companies have a responsibility to conform the fact that workers’ rights are respected throughout their supply chain.