Thirty-six-year-old B Gomathi had just returned after visiting a temple in Sivakasi where food was served on Monday afternoon. She had a few packets with her for her kids once they are back home from school.
Gomathi has not had a job for the past three months and her husband earns a paltry sum with which the family’s needs cannot be met.
“I never thought our lives would be reduced to his level. We really don’t have money to buy provisions and rice. We keep looking for some Good Samaritan to open a meal centre to feed us. Since we are daily labourers and there is no alternative industry which can employ us, we are literally on the streets,” she told DH at the Murugan Colony in Naranapuram area in Sivakasi.
Her husband who was also working in a fireworks factory left the town last month and is working as a daily wage labourer. “He gets just Rs 150 or Rs 200 per day in Tirunelveli and he sends whatever he can. But the money that he sends is just not enough. We used to struggle even when both of us were working. You can imagine how difficult life would be when one income is gone,” Gomathi said.
Tens of meal centres are being opened in Sivakasi almost every day by organisations and fireworks manufacturers to feed people. “This is the most unfortunate thing that could happen to a labourer who works hard every single day. We have been forced to look for meal centres as we can’t stay hungry for long,” Muthulakshmi, another labourer, said.
The colony houses hundreds of daily wage labourers who were solely dependent on the fireworks industry. While men take up whatever jobs that come their way – some have even taken up cleaning jobs – women are mostly jobless since they can’t travel much.
46-year-old Alagarsamy, who has 30 years' experience in the field, is now cutting wood, earning a mere Rs 150 per day as compared to Rs 400 to Rs 450 that he used to make in the fireworks industry. “Life is quite difficult. I have two children and I am not even able to buy them food even on weekends. Since something is better than nothing, I do whatever job that is offered to me. Now I cut firewood in Sivakasi,” he said.
The labourers want immediate re-opening of fireworks factories since that would mean wages daily. “If the factories are opened, then we will have money in our hands. Unless the factories open their shutters, we can’t be in peace,” Ambeth Kumaresan, who has 15 years’ experience, said.
Kalaiarasai’s tale is altogether different. The woman has been running a shop in the locality dominated by fireworks labourers for the past eight years and used to sell vegetables, provisions and snacks for Rs 4,000 every day. “Today, the sales hardly touches Rs 1500 per day. Since none of the labourers go to work, they don’t have money to spend. Why can’t the concerned just put an end to the problem,” she said.