Debating India


A cross-stitch

Friday 5 May 2006, by MENON*Jaya

The nearly one lakh weavers, one-third of the electorate in the constituency, have other matters on their mind, like bonded labour, meagre wages and rising debts. While

KUMARAPALAYAM (NEAR ERODE), MAY 4: The May 8 Assembly election has evoked little excitement in Kumarapalayam, a bustling textile town close to Erode in Namakkal district of Tiruchengode constituency.

candidates have been screaming hoarse projecting sops offered by their leaders to the sector, like free power and life insurance schemes, many weavers have been quietly sneaking into hospitals outside Erode to sell their kidneys to escape the debt trap.

G Govindaraj, for instance, is recuperating at his friend’s house in Paalikaadu in the town after selling his kidney at the Coimbatore Kidney Centre five days ago. Last month, his ?muthalali (employer)’ at Reddyarasanpalayam village, notorious for bonded labour, had given him a thrashing for not paying up the Rs 20,000 he had borrowed.

Last week, Govindararaj fled the village, contacted a tout in Kumarapalayam, left for Coimbatore, about 60 km away, and got his kidney removed. He was paid Rs 50,000. ??I have the money. But I am not going to pay up immediately,’’ said Govindaraj, weak after his surgery.

His friend N Sekar had sold his kidney in September last. With four children and a mother to feed, Sekar and his wife Thangamani work at a ?thara pattarai (loom)’ in the town. He gets Rs 3 per veshti. ??We can do about 10 veshtis a day. So I make about Rs 1,000 every month,’’ he said. His wife earns less. She rolls dyed threads on to the loom. Over the years, the family ended up taking a loan of Rs 24,000 and were under pressure to pay up.

The villages around Kumarapalayam, like Pallipalayam, Pudhupalayam, Vidiarasanpalayam, Kallangaatuvalasu, and many more have turned into rural kidney markets with touts zeroing in on villagers sagging under debts, said N K Natarajan, a senior functionary of the CPI-ML, which has fielded a candidate, Thenmozhi, in Tiruchengode, an AIADMK pocket borough. Thenmozhi is the only candidate highlighting the weavers’ plight.

But her voice is lost in the cacophony of the heavyweights of the Dravidian majors. Almost every reasonably well-off family in Kumarapalayam has looms, employing about 10 workers or more. The small town earns several crores of rupees as annual turnover for Erode and Namakkal districts, the third largest textile hub in Tamil Nadu. Cotton lungis, veshtis, salwar kameezes, saris and towels are woven and sold in the state’s town and rural markets.

More than 2,000 factories are spread across Kumarapalayam, Tiruchengode, Pallipalayam, Reddyarasanpalayam, Manali, Periya Manali and Veppada in the Tiruchengode constituency, with many constituting a thriving cottage industry. The owners, particularly of the bigger factories, have a stranglehold on workers by giving them low wages and loans too big for them to repay. ??The employers lure workers with huge loans and with the poor pay they get it is impossible to repay. Caught in the trap, they are stuck to their employers forever,’’ said B B Nagarajan, the CPI (ML) town secretary. The workers live in tiny one-room tenements for which they pay their employers Rs 250 a month. And if they plan to quit their job without their employers’ permission, they can never hope to find other living quarters. ??The employers have an understanding among themselves,’’ said Nagarajan.

Ask S. Gandhiselvam, the DMK’s Tiruchengode candidate, if he had ever taken up the weavers’ plight in his constituency, and the reply is: ??My leader (Karunanidhi) has promised free power for weavers and free saris and dhotis. It is a big sop.’’ The callous reply is not surprising since the dominant Kongu Vellalla Gounder community owns the rich and powerful textile industry providing political parties with the much-needed election funds.

AIADMK candidate, P Thangamani, is himself an influential loom owner and so is the BJP candidate, T P Dhanapal, in this constituency. So, it is no wonder that the workers’ plight is lost in the election din.

See online : The Indian Express

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