The life of 5 lakh plus (half a million) Garment workers in Bangalore is nothing but hellish existence. This industry which predominantly employs women, is rampant with all known forms of exploitation. Extreme work pressures, lack of secure job , absence of basic facilities, extended working hours without adequate Over Time allowance , denial of leave, bonus, gratuity, PF ( Provident Fund), ESI (Employee State Insurance), which have all added to the miserable existence of these women in the city.
Given the all-male supervisory and management presence in the Garment sector, the harassment of women in work places is considered as a necessary evil, but what goes on in these so called factories is beyond one’s imagination, psychological and sexual abuse continues unabated even to this day in the 21st century.
Routine harassment and humiliation of women workers by the supervisors in various forms has come to stay in the industry. It is a common occurrence that for very frivolous reasons in the production lines the unfinished garment cloths are thrown at women workers to their faces, even physical pushing around of the women and derogatory, humiliating abuses such as “Donkey”, “Dogs” etc. are used against the women workers on a regular basis.
If any of the women workers ever dare to stand up to these kinds of humiliations,a public rebuke awaits her; the worker is punished by making her stand the whole day in front of everybody else, or give them no work (and hence no pay for the day). These are just some of the hellish instances that the managements of Garment industries have perfected as “industrial relations”.
Unable to bare these kinds of harassment, many women garment workers have committed suicide. In this list of unfortunate victims include workers from Gokuldas (one of the biggest garments manufactures in Bangalore) such as Ammu, Renuka and many others. Ammu, a mother of two committed suicide in the toilet of the factory. 18 year old Renuka committed suicide by hanging herself in her house.
While the bosses of these industries have made fortunes of accounted and unaccounted wealth disregarding all labour laws, the brands like GAP, Levis, Adiddas, Reebok etc., who claim tall and brag about their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) get their products manufactured through these exploitative practices have only cynically pleaded their innocence.
Both the government of Karnataka and authorities in the central government are happy as long as the records of Industrial Relations are kept tidy and their quarterly and yearly GDP figures are climbing. It is needless to say that they are routinely stuffed with huge bribes to look the other way.
It is high time that the Garment workers stand up for their rights. It is time to fight for better workplace environs. It is important to raise the consciousness of the workers so that this kind of harassment will not be tolerated any more by them.
What is to be done?
These kinds of harassments should not be thought as commonplace and should not be taken matter of fact.
All sorts of harassments whether on us or on others must be fought back!
It is important to lend support to the harassed workers and encouraged to fight back.
All efforts to be made to bring culprits to books
All efforts to fight for a harassment and abusive free environment.
A militant and democratic union must be built immediately.
Women Garment Worker and Activist, Bangalore
( Translated from Dudiyora Horaata July- Aug 2011 issue)