The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Veil off faceless women workers

New Delhi, April 14: A project on home-based women workers, carried out by researchers, shows a majority of them in large cities continue to be “invisible” though they make crucial contributions in several sectors.

“Many women workers assemble garments or electronics at home, with material provided by large companies, sometimes multi-national companies,” says Dong Sook Gills, the project coordinator from Sunderland University.

The project was carried out in Delhi, Calcutta and Mumbai by women’s studies and development centres in Delhi and Jawaharlal Nehru Universities. It showed that as many as 96 per cent women workers were employed in the unorganised sector.

Gills points out that though the products manufactured at home are sold abroad, the workers have no idea about the chain from the middlemen to the companies that sell these products.

Mondira Dutta, project consultant from Jawaharlal Nehru University, says: “These women work from dawn to dusk, sometimes facing serious health hazards. Their bodies ache from sitting in one posture for long hours — their backs are bent with constant stooping, many suffer from pain in the spine — especially those engaged in embroidery and other eye-straining work carried out in poor visibility.”

The project report outlines the case of 39-year-old Salehar Biwi of Bengal, who embroiders exquisite patterns on silk. The report says: “Salehar Biwi told us she has been doing this Kashmiri embroidery for the last 10 years. The particular embroidery she was doing then, Salehar said, will take her 25 days to complete. The family will work for 8 to 10 hours a day.”

They earned Rs 2,000 a month — after striking a bargain with the contractor. “The money shared by four people approximately amounts to Rs 500 per person per month,” the report says.

Take the case of Savitri, a resident of a rundown locality on the margins of Delhi. She sits on the road pulling out nails from packaging boxes which are then recycled into wooden crates. She works 12 hours non-stop -- from 7 am till 7 pm. A contractor gives her the work.

“Between Savitri and her sister-in-law, they are able to produce 400 nail-free wooden planks a day. Savitri is able to earn an average of Rs 40 a day, which means Rs 1,200 a month. She is able to contribute about 20 per cent to her family's income,” the report says.

Qamar Jahan, living in a Mumbai slum, is luckier than most. Her contribution to her family income as a zardosi worker is 100 per cent. “She is one of the few lucky ones whose childhood hobby and passion turned out to be her professional career,” the report says.

“A particular piece of zardosi work she was embroidering with gold brocades would take her a minimum of one and a half months to finish -- with three people working 14 hours per day,” the report adds.

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