This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Abhimanyu Kumar. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

How 20,000 Textile Workers In Haryana Are Living A Life Close To Hell: YKA Report

More from Abhimanyu Kumar

By Abhimanyu Singh for Youth Ki Awaaz: 

Amit Kumar, is a young man from Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh, working as a “helper” in a garment factory in Udyog Vihar on the outskirts of the nation’s capital, for the last three years. A “helper” is responsible for doing odd-jobs inside a factory including carrying materials from one location to another, among other tasks. I met him one morning in January this year at his one-room house, one amongst several standing in a row next to a large open drain in Kapasheda, where many of the workers live.

The same one room serves as the kitchen, while toilets are shared. They are often inhabited by three to four workers living together, or an entire family.

He’s paid Rs. 6500, he told me. (A helper falls under the ‘unskilled’ category and he should be getting Rs. 7600, as per the revised guidelines). However, it has increased from Rs. 5000 that he got when he first came here three years ago. “We are getting paid less than other places. We have complained to the management but they don’t listen to us. They say they will see to it.”

Udyog Vihar, where Amit Kumar works, is one of the major hubs of textile industry in the country. There are around 2500 factories operating here, employing more than 20,000 workers. Export of manufactured garments brings billions of dollars in the country and the factories in Udyog Vihar, together with those in NOIDA and Faridabad, contribute a quarter of that sum; Udyog Vihar contributes the lion’s share. The MNC clients for these manufactured garments include Gap Inc., the American apparel behemoth, among others.

Hundreds of workers make their way to the garment factories every morning. Many of them are not aware of the increase in the minimum wage made by the Haryana government.
Hundreds of workers make their way to the garment factories every morning. Many of them are not aware of the increase in minimum wage made by the Haryana government.

In September last year, the Haryana government increased the minimum wages for skilled and unskilled labour. The wages for highly skilled labour rose from Rs. 6,500 (approx.) to Rs. 9,700 ( approx.), an increase of almost 50 percent. For unskilled labour, the increase was to the tune of almost 30%: from Rs. 5,880 (approx.) to Rs. 7600. The wages for the categories in between – semi-skilled etc. – were also raised. In per day terms, this meant that a highly skilled labour getting around Rs. 200 for his work earlier was now entitled to be paid more than Rs. 300. The unskilled labour getting around Rs. 180 per day could now draw close to Rs. 250 per day for his work.

The increase in minimum wages was ought to have been good news as labour trouble in Haryana is a well-known phenomenon. The state has both automobile and garment industries operating, among others. While the troubles in the automobile sector have received substantial media coverage, especially after the death of a senior HR official in a scuffle with the workers in a Maruti plant a few years ago – the case still continues – the goings-on at the garment industry are still, comparatively, under-reported.

The Tip Of The Iceberg That’s Set To Sink A Ship

People’s Union for Democratic Rights released a key report on the garment industry operating out of Udyog Vihar in 2015. The organisation decided to investigate the working and living conditions of those employed in such factories after an incident that took place almost a year ago, in the month of February. A garment industry worker was thrashed badly by the guards at his workplace because he reported 15 minutes late for work. Rumours soon spread that he had been killed due to the beating and led to protest by the workers who came out on the streets. PUDR found out that the worker had not been killed but badly injured. The report further mentioned that accidents were common in these factories and were often hushed up, without proper compensation to the kith and kin of the workers. It also mentioned sexual abuse of female employees. The report painted a grim picture of the working and living conditions of the workers at these factories.

To find out more, Youth Ki Awaaz conducted a month-long investigation, in order to verify matters first-hand. I spoke to both male and female workers, salaried and daily-wage employees, officer-bearers of the association of factory owners in the area and labour activists. The picture that emerged confirmed the conclusion reached in the PUDR report: that the incident that took place in February last year was the “tip of the iceberg”.

Same Story Everywhere

Rahul Prajapati, from Farrukhabad, UP, who also works as a “helper” in another garment factory in Udyog Vihar told me that his company was giving workers like him the newly stipulated minimum wage of Rs. 7600. The notification about the raise in minimum wages had come into force from November 1, 2015.

Rahul was earlier being paid Rs. 5813. However, he says, the working hours are rarely limited to eight. “Generally, we work for 12 to 14 hours per day,” said Prajapati. Money for ‘overtime’ is paid but rarely according to official rates which should be double the usual wages. For someone getting Rs. 7600 as salary, money for per hour of ‘overtime’ should amount to around Rs. 60 (with the daily pay being Rs. 250 approximately, the per hour rate would come to around Rs. 30). Prajapati said that workers like him got anywhere from Rs. 27 to Rs. 30 as payment for overtime, in gross violation of the official guidelines.

Virender Ram is a tailor, a higher-up in the hierarchy of garment factory workers. He came to work here two years ago, from the plains in Nepal. Although he is getting the newly revised salary of approximately Rs. 9000, he is still not entitled to any paid leaves or regular weekly offs, nor does he get the payment for “overtime” according to the official rates.

Ajay Kumar came to Udyog Vihar looking for work a decade ago. Initially, he received Rs. 2600 as salary for his work as “helper”. He continued at the same factory all these years and is now getting paid the revised minimum wage. He told me that while he was getting payment for “overtime” at the official rate – double of the usual rate – the behaviour of the supervisors in the factories in Udyog Vihar left much to be desired. “They are often abusive,” he told me.

Other workers corroborated the allegation. “The lower level of management treats workers badly,” said a worker on condition of anonymity. The reasons for the ire of the supervisor can often be a small delay in finishing lunch or having the tea within the stipulated time – they are allowed half an hour for lunch and fifteen minute breaks for tea twice a day. “Especially those in the housekeeping department, like sweepers for example, are treated the worse. They can be fired for the smallest of reasons, and that too only on the basis of suspicion sometimes,” said Rithik Kumar who has worked as a sweeper among other odd-jobs in these factories. He told me he had worked in several factories in Udyog Vihar and physical abuse was a recurring feature everywhere. “If they abuse us verbally, we also respond at times. If you have hands, so do we,” he said, explaining how fights took place. He added that no one was happy working in these factories. “People return to their villages as poor as when they came to work here,” said Rithik.

Rithik and other workers also claimed that while money for Provident Fund was deducted from every worker’s salary, hardly anyone received it. “They even throw you out if you fall sick a couple of times in quick succession,” another worker added.

Others pointed to the open drain near which many workers live as an important source of occurrence of illness. It traversed the entire length of the colony on one side. Flies and other insects hovered above its dirty water, with garbage rotting on its sides.

“What can be worse than this? Kids are playing next to the open drain. It is filthy here,” said one of the workers. “We are also human beings. But the way we are treated in these factories, I am afraid to set foot in them,” Rithik told me. Other workers added that even going to the loo was highly restricted and controlled, with workers expected to do it as quickly as possible.

Rows of tiny one-room houses in Kapasheda where garment factory workers live. The landlords of these areas are infamous for hiking house-rents on whim.
Rows of tiny, one-room houses in Kapasheda where garment factory workers live. The landlords of these areas are infamous for hiking house-rents on a whim.


Literally stacked on dumpyards, the workers and their families are exposed to terrible living conditions.
Literally living by dump yards, the workers and their families are exposed to terrible living conditions.

The Wrong Kind Of Targeted Approach

Despite the raise in minimum wages, the situation at Udyog Vihar remains worrisome. In fact, the raise in minimum wages largely remains an administrative exercise as it does not take into account the way these factories actually run, with many workers employed at a ‘piece-rate’ basis and changing jobs every five-six months.

Workers I met added that the ‘targets’ had been raised since the increase in salary – the “target” amounts to the number of pieces a worker is supposed to finish in a work-day. In many factories, workers are paid according to the number of pieces of garments he works on per day which is another reason the raise in minimum wage, calculated according to number of hours worked, does not translate into better working conditions or enhancement in living standards for the workers.

Daily wage workers gather every morning at a particular place, waiting and hoping to be picked by factory contractors for the day.
Daily wage workers gather every morning at a particular place, waiting and hoping to be picked by factory contractors for the day.

I also spoke to some ‘samplers’ (skilled tailors) who received payment according to the “piece-rate” and for whom the increase in minimum wage was immaterial. Unlike others who work on only one part of a garment – the zipper or the sleeves for example – a “sampler” makes only one or two pieces in a full day. The ‘sampler’ – who makes samples of garments – is the highest among the workers’ hierarchy.

Gulab Chand came to Delhi in 2004-05 from Gaya in Bihar and has been working in Udyog Vihar ever since. He makes around Rs. 11,000 a month, based on the payment he received per piece, which is close to Rs. 200. Unlike other workers, Gulab Chand did not complain of any ill-treatment from supervisors.

Others like Mohammad Nizamuddin, also a worker on “piece-rate”, said that the payment of salary was rarely on time. “Maybe in one or two companies,” he said. He added that the payment per piece was usually lower than the “right” rate. “Even if we are late by five minutes, the company treats it as half-day,” he said.

Aslam Ansari also works on ‘piece-rate’ at one of the factories. “The employers often delay payment just so that the worker cannot leave and has to continue working. This is like working inside a prison,” he said

All the workers I met more or less agreed that if anyone tried to form a union, he was likely to get a thrashing first and later turned out of the company.

They added that no compensation was usually provided in the case of accidents within factories. “Only for some first-aid and nothing else,” said a female worker who wished to remain anonymous.

Women Caught In A Knot

On my next visit to Kapasheda, I spoke to workers, including many female ones, who were waiting to be picked up by the contractor for daily-wage jobs. Several of them told me that the contractor pocketed almost half of the due minimum wage paid by the company for the workers. They also told me that when the foreign companies sent their officials for inspection, the factory owners forced them to present a rosy picture of the working conditions.

Exploitation of women workers in such factories is common. They are made to work harder and longer. Many complaint of misbehaviour with them in the factories.
Exploitation of women workers in such factories is common. They are made to work harder and longer. Many complain of misbehaviour with them in the factories.

They also complained of high-handedness on part of their landlords. “If we default on paying the rent, when salaries are delayed, the landlord turns us out immediately. We have to stay out till we can pay him back,” said a female worker.

Others added that they were forced to buy groceries from the landlords who ran stores. Not buying grocery from the landlord could also lead to eviction, they alleged. “They sell us the items at a higher rate,” complained another female worker.

“This is basically the fault of the company owners. They need to remember that we also need to live. If we won’t be there, how will their companies run?” asked an incensed female worker.

I also spoke to a female contractor who was picking up workers at the spot. She expressed her helplessness. “We pay them according to what we get from the companies. It is not in our hands,” she explained.

Others added that rents were also raised as soon as salaries were raised. “We are here now. If we get work, we will get some money otherwise we will return home empty-handed. The lala (landlord/grocer) won’t leave us in peace in any case,” a female worker said.

His Master’s Voice

An office-bearer of the Udyog Vihar Factory Owners Association spoke to me on the condition of anonymity. The office-bearer, who is a factory owner himself, also admitted that workers themselves preferred to work on “piece-rate” which rendered the stipulations about minimum wages according to the number of work hours pretty much irrelevant.

As far as other allegations were concerned, he said that the MNCs had their own compliance agencies which conducted annual checks. “We can’t slip up following the rules related to the welfare of workers as MNCs have stopped working with such negligent factories earlier,” the office-bearer told me.

Many workers claim that they are made to work overtime are not paid their dues on time.
Many workers claim that they are made to work overtime and are not paid their dues on time.

Sink Or Sail?

To know the perspective of the labour activists on this issue, I met Dithhi Bhattacharya, the executive head of Centre for Workers Management, an NGO which works for the rights of garment workers.

Dithhi agreed that workers themselves preferred to work on ‘piece-rate’ instead of minimum wage, as it ensured them more money, regardless of the longer hours. She added that many workers did not want the status of a permanent worker as they preferred the flexibility to change jobs which, once again, meant more money.

According to Bhattacharya, this made the job of the activists much harder.

The garment industries, explained Dithhi, on the outskirts of Delhi, including Udyog Vihar had no “working-class history” as the workers were generally first-generation migrants from U.P. and Bihar, usually with some land back home and they kept going back after a few months of work in the city. “All this has created a lumpenised workforce in the garment factories here,” she said.

She added that the southern part of the country had a more literate workforce willing to fight for their rights and this had led to a better regulatory framework there. “Moreover, workers themselves don’t take the responsibility of (organising themselves). Crisis situations generally fizzle out although sometimes they lead to an explosion,” she told me.

Female workers gather at one point, some waiting for the rides to the factories and some waiting to be selected by the factory contractors.
Female workers gather at one point, some waiting for rides to the factories, and some waiting to be selected by factory contractors.

A Stitch In Time Can Save Nine

According to Bhattacharya, it was the responsibility of the factory owners more than the MNCs to make sure the workers were cared for better. “The factory owners have some leverage as this region is politically stable and they have domestic demand for the garments also. The MNCs depend on them and won’t mind paying more,” she told me.

Regardless of whose fault it is, fact remains that an unorganised labour force seething with sundry grievances is a dangerous thing, like a powder keg, which can be set alight at a moment’s notice with a mere spark. It is time now for the various stakeholders to not let things slip out of control irreversibly because that can put an end to an entire industry and rob thousands of a livelihood, and at least, a life of sustenance, if not dignity and comfort.

Photos by Manira Chaudhary

You must be to comment.

More from Abhimanyu Kumar

Similar Posts

By Khanjan Ravani

By Denzel Joyson

By Tania Mitra

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below