The women said that they struggle in the factories so that their children never have to.
M Banumathi, who works as a daily wage earner at a private cracker unit near Sivakasi said, “I have four daughters and I do not want them to land in the cracker units as labourers. Unlike my parents, I have managed to educate by daughters and have given them the courage to pursue their own dreams.”
Among Banumathi’ four daughters, three are in college now. The eldest daughter is in her second year of studying MCom, the second is in her second year in BSc Nursing, the third is in her first year
in BA Tamil literature while the youngest is studying in Plus one now.
Even though the wages are meagre, Banumathi is proud that she managed to educate her daughters. “My husband is a van driver and together we earn little, but have educated all our daughters so that none of them end up as labourers in cracker units like me,” she said.
Banumathi’s daughters too sound hopeful of a bright future. The eldest, M Abirami, wants to become an entrepreneur. “I wish to setup a plant near Sivakasi to manufacture eco-friendly cups. We have witnessed how our parents struggled to ensure that we are independent and we will not disappoint them,” said Abirami.
Meanwhile, her sister, Tamilarasi, is working her way to become a lecturer. Despite this, all of Banumathi’s children are familiar with cracker manufacturing techniques and offer a helping hand during holidays, but they are particular about it being a temporary affair.
The situation struck a familiar note with M Muthumari who has been working as a labourer working in cracker manufacturing units for 15 years. She too has four children, including a son, and doesnot want any of her children to get into this line. Hence, she too has been trying her best to ensure that they receive proper education. Her children are making their way through school now.
In their zeal to ensure a better future for their kids, the women work long hours, and suffer through malnutrition and even anaemia.
A survey conducted by women activists among women workers in Sivakasi last year revealed that almost 70 per cent of the women work force were anaemic. Mahalakshmi, the secretary, of Sivakasi Cracker and Matchstick Units Workers Association, said, “The women become anaemic mostly because they have unhealthy food habits thanks to the low wages and long hours at the cracker manufacturing units.”
She insisted that the government health department must look into the matter and help the women by providing the required food supplements and conducting frequent medical camps.