Her eyes reflected her angst. Her lips twitched with sorrow as she grasped the edge of her saree. She gazed longingly at the deserted alleyway. Her heart told her that her sons would return someday. But, her spirit was already broken. She could no longer bear the agony of waiting for those who had deserted them a long time ago.
Hope was her only defense against misery. She looked at the skies for a sign from her creator wondering how long her faith would be tested. Her thoughts were soon broken with the loud chatter coming from inside the house. She looked at the young boy sitting across her and gave him a reassuring smile.
Mari’s grandmother’s face softened as she explained, “The little girl’s name is Gayatri. She is my elder daughter’s child. Her mother is quite adamant to send her to school everyday till she can afford to pay the fees. I am not sure what the future has in store for her. I wish she has a shot at a better life; at least better than the one she is living right now.”
Gayatri’s father abandoned their family when she was quite young. Her mother too decided to move into her parents’ house for they were left with nothing but themselves. The men walked away without a shred of remorse, never to return. Words unspoken and tears un-shed, their mother lamented for their children who bore the brunt of their selfish deeds.
Mari’s mother, Kanmani, joined us and shared with us her dreams and aspirations. She pointed at Mari and said, “His official name is Mahendran but we affectionately call him Mari. I think he likes that name.” This made Mari chuckle out aloud. She also told us that as a young boy, Mari was always quite bright and shared a keen interest to pursue whatever intrigued him. He was always driven by curiosity.
“I only want my children to grow and prosper. I don’t want them to suffer anymore. Mari dropped out of school when he was in eighth grade and decided to look for a job. I pleaded with him to continue for two more years. He gave up his only chance at a better life for me. I wish he hadn’t. From what I hear, he is very good at his work. I don’t want any money and neither does Mari. But, if you can do something to support and nurture his skill, I’d be grateful,” she said as tears welled up in her eyes.
Kanmani repeatedly told us that monetary gains have no value in her life and that she hoped her children became successful through their craft. Her younger son Shaktivale stayed with her older sister in Cuddalore near Kumily. One day, the ten-year-old came to her and begged her to send him to his aunt. The schools were relatively better there. He is studying in grade 6 and she is quite content with his progress so far.
We asked her if she was interested in pursuing something else instead of working as a labourer. Most of the plantation workers are paid a meager sum as daily wage which neither lasts them an entire day nor enables them to support their families. “I have been working in the cardamom fields since I was very young. This is all I know. What skills can I pick up at this age? Besides, there’s nothing else to do in this town. And, I refuse to leave my children and migrate to another city for money,” said Kanmani. Her eyes bore into our soul demanding for answers we never had. And, yet again we found ourselves staring into the face of despair.
The Minimum Wages Act that was introduced in 1948 has undoubtedly given both Central and State government the rightful jurisdiction in fixing wages. Although, the act in itself is legally non-binding, payment of wages below the minimum rate amounts to forced labour which is theoretically punishable by law. However, a ‘living wage’ as defined by the constitution of India should ensure basic standard of living in addition to health, education and other needs. In order to address growing concerns, a tripartite committee was formed in 1948 to conceptualise an efficient system with respect to facilitating minimum wage across all industries. According to the committee, the wage should guarantee sustenance and efficiency apart from other facilities.
However, under this particular law, the wage rates differ, owing to standard of living, capacity of industries and supply-demand chain, across states, sectors, skills and occupations. As a result, the government has been unable to achieve uniformity with respect to minimum wage rate across the country. The complexity of the law has led to enterprises and corporate organisations taking full advantage of the numerous loopholes within the structure. Estate workers are paid anywhere between Rs 88 to Rs 120 per day. And, our country believes that this is enough to earn a decent living that will also guarantee dignity amongst many other things.
At the end of the day, the ones who suffer the most are those who are chained to the bottom of our disillusioned hierarchy. Kanmani’s voice wreaked of helplessness for her only mistake was to be born in the lower stratum of the society. Her eyes burnt with rage as she said, “I work tirelessly from 8 am to 7.30 pm everyday. My hard work is worth Rs 120. And, I am yet another worker in the labour pool. I am not educated and people like me can only opt for such jobs – one that doesn’t require you to have a face or a voice…”
(to be continued…)
Project ‘Rest of My family‘ is an attempt to connect back, re-discover our relationship with and understand our responsibility towards the larger family that we are a part of — the rest of our human family. Hence, it is titled Rest Of My Family.
Through #RestofMyFamily, we will focus on highlighting social issues and human interest stories, documenting the triumphs of the ordinary man despite all the hardships they face constantly, and help these stories reach a larger audience and wherever necessary extend support to the individuals and communities that we write about. We hope to make a direct impact to the lives of those people we meet and find suffering due to various social issues; to connect the ones who need help to the ones who can help….
Find more about the campaign here: http://igg.me/at/restofmyfamily/x/539502