Garment industries form the nucleus of the employment pool for people from the lower socioeconomic strata in Karnataka. Despite being one of the most feasible areas of work, the industry has a darker side, as it constantly keeps its untutored employees vulnerable to opportunistic higher management. In the process, the predominantly female workers are the most affected.
The government has passed several laws, such as the Minimum Wages Act and the Labour Act, to ensure basic rights for these workers. However, unaware of their rights, most of these women face oppression and humiliation in several ways and are stuck in an emotional struggle to express the effects of these wrongs.
While most women ignore their latent potential and give into the humiliation, Saroja, a garment worker and general secretary of the Garment Labour Union (GLU), has stood strong as a ray of hope to several women. RJ Asha, through the course of this interview, explores the life story of Saroja and the positive impact she has had on the lives of several women.
Saroja’s focus has been on spreading awareness amongst women about the rights of a
garment worker, financial details about ESI and PF, rules on maternity leaves and leaves for abortion, and a lot more. Migrant workers from states like Assam and Odisha are deftly trained by her without letting language become a barrier. She has been this strong person who is looked up to by women suffering domestic abuse and sexual as well as emotional harassment at work.
Constantly involved in a wide range of social and humanitarian activities like counseling, protests and official work (involving documents of workers in the labour department, etc), Saroja is a woman of might. She acts as a fulcrum to the essential actions of women in the industry reaching out for their much deserved basic rights. One of the many workers to whom Saroja has been a facilitator of support is Latha. She was humiliated and pressured by her supervisor to meet unrealistic targets. Following a disagreement, she was threatened with a firing. She soon approached Saroja via GLU and this provided her with all the support that she was looking for. Her stance was backed by facts about basic rights of garment workers. The supervisor responded to this by approaching the HR department and complaining against her. The following day, when Latha went to work, she was stopped by the security and wasn’t allowed in. While the HR department called the police on to the scene, Latha reached out to the Union. Saroja, Rukmini, Saraswati, and Raju from the Union stood by her for support. After an elaborate argument, it was agreed upon by the authorities of the company to provide her with salary until the case was sorted out.
The Union enabled Latha to present a strong voice in the situation. Just like how every moment of our lives is a battle, Latha, and Saroja, like many other women, symbolize the constant effort it takes to create a respectable space around oneself to live in. The case continues to this day.
It is the work of such women which amplifies in time and makes a significant mark of change in our living.
Written by Vybhavi Adiga.