My name is Anathi* and I am 18 years old. I come from a village in the Puthukottai district of India.
When I was little, I lived like a normal little girl my age. I was surrounded by my family, went to school and had many friends. My favorite subject was mathematics. When I grew up I wanted to be a doctor. I loved playing, dancing and singing. My family didn’t have much, but we were happy.
When I was only 15, my parents informed me that I would no longer continue with school. My family had debts to pay off and needed more money. I cried when my father gave me this news. I didn’t want to stop going to school but, at the same time, I didn’t want my family to suffer from poverty.
My father had told a neighbor about our financial problems, who told him about well-paying jobs for young women and put him in contact with an employment agent he met in our village. The agent told my father that I would have earned a lot of money and that I would have had enough money not only to help my family pay off the loans, but also to get my little sister to study and set aside something for my marriage.
I was very frightened when I learned that I would have to work in a factory and I would not be able to go home every day to eat with my family. I had never lived outside my village. I confided in my best friend, who had heard of other girls who would work by agreement with the agent. Knowing that I would have company in this new place, I stopped feeling so bad.
Three weeks later I left to work at the factory. It was very sad for me to greet my family and friends and I felt great pain.
When I got to the factory, they told me I was going to live there. There were many girls my age and some seemed younger than me. We stayed in a very dirty hostel. There was no real bathroom or clean kitchen equipment. I wanted to leave immediately. The following day, I met my supervisors and was asked to sign the contract, which I could not understand clearly but I signed the same on the advice of the work agent. Before arriving at the factory, the agent advised me to sign all the documents because they meant that I would receive food, shelter and money.
The work in the factory was hard. I had to work six days a week for 12 hours a day. Once I got sick and couldn’t work. My supervisor told me that I would be punished for not showing up for work and that I would not be able to leave the hostel to buy medicine. I was sick for a week with a headache and fever without receiving any visit from a doctor.
During my first year of work, I was only allowed to visit my family a couple of times. My mother came to see me one day, but she was sent away.
During my second year at the factory, I continued to get sick. Working long hours without a break often made me feel bad. Whenever I didn’t show up for work, my supervisor threatened me. He yelled at me and humiliated me in front of everyone. I filed a formal complaint, but it was worse. The supervisor continued to bully me by beating me if I worked too slowly. After I was beaten for the first time, I promised myself that from that day on I would suffer in silence because I feared for my safety.
One night, in the hostel, I heard one of my friends cry. I asked her why and she told me that our supervisor had raped her and thought she would never be able to return home because it would bring dishonor to her family. I convinced her to go to sleep and that we would decide what to do next morning. That night, my friend killed herself. I was so full of anger that I yelled at the supervisor, who hit me all over my body. I suffered serious injuries and was expelled from the factory.
When I returned home, my father was disappointed and I was also disappointed in myself because I had neither money nor education.
My family was still in poverty.
One day SAVE (ed: Non-governmental organization with which Mani Tese collaborates) visited my village. I was not familiar with this organization but I learned that it would organize a training course for young women like me and I asked them to help me. When the people at SAVE heard my story, they told me that I could participate in the professional training program.
Thanks to them, I was able to learn the craft of a seamstress and now I know my rights as a worker. I work, I earn my salary and I am not abused.
Sometimes I feel sorry for what happened to me. I never wanted to start working so young, but I’m glad I got the chance to start over. With my money I can help my family and now I can tell my experience to the other girls in the village, so that they don’t find themselves in the same situation as me.
*The names used in this story are fictional to protect the privacy of the people involved.