Sixty-seven protesting women workers of Foxconn Technology Group in Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu were finally released on the evening of Sunday, December 19, after being detained for 24 hours. The women, working at the iPhone manufacturing firm, were detained as they protested against the food poisoning over 250 colleagues suffered, allegedly after eating food served at a company hostel last week.
Sources tell TNM that 67 protesting women workers between 18 to 25 years, who were detained inside a private hall, were released in two batches on Sunday evening. Further, a woman freelance journalist, who was present on the spot, was also detained on December 18, taken into custody on December 19 evening, and released in a few hours. Meanwhile, Valarmathi, an activist working on womenâ€™s issues and environment, who had called for protest against the incident at Foxconn on her social media, was also arrested on December 19.
A source told TNM, â€śAt around 5 pm on Sunday, about 56 women came out of the hall after they were let go by the police, and boarded a Foxconn bus. Police surrounded them and barred anyone from interacting with them. Then, again at 5.30 pm, around ten women walked out and boarded the second bus. We heard that the women were taken to their respective hostels, and there, they were told to pack their belongings, while another vehicle dropped them at different bus stands to go to their native places.â€ť
The source added that although family members of few women were present at the spot, the police did not allow them to speak to the women. â€śThe police asked for the Aadhaar cards of the family members before allowing them to meet the women.â€ť
Late on the night of December 18, the police had called the families of the detained women and informed them that their daughters had been arrested. â€śFor traumatising our family and for intimidating us, the police called our family and said we have been arrested and hung up,â€ť said a woman worker.
Journalist and activist arrested
Though all the workers were released, a 29-year-old woman activist and freelance journalist who majorly reports on labour issues and was detained in the same hall with the protesting workers, was arrested on December 19. The Oragadam police remanded her but later released her on personal bond.
Meanwhile, police sources say that Salem-based activist Valarmathi had been booked under three sections of IPC: section 153A (promoting enmity between groups), section 505(1) (imprisonment for causing incitement) and section 505(2) (spreading rumors).
The Kanchipuram police did not respond to TNMâ€™s request for a comment despite several attempts.
Speaking to TNM, Sujata Mody, President of Penn Thozhollar Sangam (Women Labourersâ€™ Union, a trade union for women workers), which had condemned the journalist arrest said, â€śThe journalist was only reporting on the protest on December 18 when she was detained along with women workers. We were told that her phone was thoroughly checked by the police, who alleged that she was instigating the crowd to protest.â€ť
â€śAll these women are not from influential or rich backgrounds. They work in the firm for a meagre salary of Rs 8,000 a month. Importantly, no one had instigated them to protest. They finally decided to speak up after having faced issues for a long time,â€ť added Sujata.
Why the protest swelled on December 19
Women workers had been protesting the alleged food poisoning since December 15; the number swelled to hundreds on December 18 over lack of information on their 256 ill colleagues, and rumours of death. The protest erupted after the management did not reveal information about the affected workers.
Tiruvallur District Collector Alby John revealed that 256 workers had Acute Diarrhoeal Disease on December 15, 2021. Of these, 159 had been hospitalized, while the others were treated as outpatients at different hospitals.
Further, official sources say that though there are many rumors floating about, there are no complaints of anyone being missing. In fact, the district administration had conducted a medical camp and most of those who fell sick were accounted for at this camp and various hospitals. Only one person is still in the hospital, the sources said.