Amiya (not her real name) would rather die than go back to working on the ‘sumangali thittam’ scheme.

“I don’t want to live in this world if that happens,”

she says,

“I felt like a slave.”

Amiya had planned to work for three years, for a daily wage of 110 rupees (less than £1.50) and an end payment of 40,000 (£520). She lived in a hostel at the mill, and worked from 3.30pm to midnight, or midnight till 8.30am, every night of the week. Often she would be forced to work a double shift, meaning she worked for 18 hours, with just two 15-minute breaks. She was given dosa (a pancake) for breakfast, and rice and water for lunch and dinner. Very soon she became anemic.

Eighteen months into Amiya’s contract, her friend was found dead, having consumed chemical hair dye. The supervisors said she had committed suicide “because she was in love with a boy”. Amiya thinks differently. “I think they have done something to her and killed her,” she says, explaining her friend’s body had been found covered with mysterious wounds and bruises. Amiya persuaded her parents to let her leave the scheme. She has nothing from her time in the mill: she spent her wages on treating her
anemia, and was too frightened to ask for any part of the end payment. “I was afraid [the supervisors] would threaten me,” she says.

Through the Girls at Risk project, Amiya is now enrolled on a one year technical training course in fashion design in Dindigul and hopes to gain the skills to secure safe employment or start up her own business.