How many of us were not moved by the Tamil flick ‘Angadi Theru’ that was a candid picturization from the floors of certain departmental stores and showrooms in Chennai that employed high school dropouts from backward districts, in hoards. Paid meagre wages, bunched together in pigeonhole living places and fed substandard rations with no privacy for showering or even a square inch of personal space , the young girls and boys in their teens and twenties had to stand for hours upto twelve or fifteen day after day, for years, with their paychecks directly mailed to their BPL families back home. Tragedy is, there is an endless crowd willing and waiting to slip into their shoes if they quit, even today in the real world. I couldn’t help wondering how the business owners did not slap the producers of the picture with a libel suit. There is a character in the film of a middle aged man with swollen legs due to gangrene owing to years of living on foot working for these multistoried cavernous shopping malls with not even adequate or well placed safety exits in case of an emergency. The critically acclaimed film went on to win quite a few awards for the year. In one of my previous blog posts years back, I have highlighted their never ending trauma. At the end of the day, they retire in their thirties, having paid with their health for short term gains, frustrated and unfit for employment elsewhere.
But long before the movie happened, I understood from teachers on supervision posted for board examinations about the hardship they faced, even if for a very brief duration such as the length of the exam hours. Three hours on foot without a seating for the lady teachers in their forties and fifties was no easy task. While they were supervising candidates sitting for examination, they were overseen by an official on rounds checking whether the teachers rested their backs on the one single table provided in the exam hall! Personally I had experienced this difficulty when I opted to supervise a batch of exams in my early twenties for a correspondence course graduate degree exam. There were plenty of electives and therefore I had a fifteen day serving duty. Even in such an young and fit age, walking the hall without a single moment of respite was difficult for me. I could understand the board exam supervising teachers’ predicament. Like general election duties (or juror duties), in India, no teacher serving a state/central board school can refuse supervision duties for board exams (or even paper evaluation duties) that are mandatory (although on rotation basis picked by management/government). It is the middle aged women teachers who are hit most by the rule. There has to be a concession to their age. Oral advice can be given to supervisors to remain on foot as much as possible. However, I am not certain about the current scene.
Finally we have an ordinance that is coming to the rescue of these hapless showroom workers who have to be on their feet for more than twelve hours a day, six days a week. What a boon this is to women workers especially. These young girls are in their most fertile age. I always wondered how the girls would manage their cycles standing whole day long without a minute to sit down. Imagine the harm they could be doing to themselves, their internal organs like kidneys and uterus. I am not sure whether the gangrene character in Angadi Theru was based on a real life victim. But I am somehow inclined to believe him.
Providing seating to your serving staff is such a basic requirement. Work ethic. Employers are obligated to extend such a provision for their workers who mint profit for them, at least on humanitarian grounds. Denial of these rudimentary comforts are in gross violation of human rights. Finally such a sensitive issue has found a solution with the Tamil Nadu government introducing a bill that bestows the right to sit on store employees. There would be no necessity for enforcing such a law, if only the showroom owners had had an ounce of basic decency. What kind of ruthless money making machines do we have in our midst. Profiteering at any cost, with not a bother for staff welfare. Grotesque capitalism for you here.
I don’t expect our desi news channels to report the news just as they never reported the introduction of OBC Archakas and female Oduvar in our Agama temples. Good Gandhi and EVR Periyar did not have to face these hypocritic brigades as well to fight for equality among fellow humans.