By Anuradha Nagaraj
The suicide of a 14-year-old girl at a textile mill in southern India after a 16-hour shift is under investigation as a trade union and human rights campaigners voice concerns about poor conditions in the industry and the use of child labour.
The Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union (TTCU), an all-women's union, said Dharshini Balasubramani was found hanged in her dormitory on Tuesday - four months after another teen died working for a bonus of about $40 at a nearby spinning mill.
Officials are investigating the death.
"For a 14-year-old this was too much work to take," Thivyarakhini Sesuraj, president of the TTCU, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Balasubramani was working at a mill owned by Kolkata-based Dollar Industries Limited in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, where about 400,000 people are employed in more than 1,500 spinning mills to turn cotton into yarn, fabric and clothes.
Indian law bans the employment of anyone aged under 15, and only allows those aged between 15 and 18 to work for limited hours each day in non-hazardous industries - a category that includes spinning mills.
Dollar Industries' spokesman Gopalakrishnan Sarangapani said extra shifts at the mill were optional and Balasubramani, who was employed for two months, was not forced to work overtime.
"There are no violations in our mills," said Sarangapani, adding that the company did not know the girl was only 14.
"According to documents produced by the girl, she was born in 2000, and we hired her based on that ... We consider the workers as our own children and treat them accordingly. We are supporting the police probe."
On its website Dollar Industries describes itself as one of India's leading knitwear companies, employing almost 600 people and exporting clothes to the Middle East and Nepal.
India is one of the world's largest textile and garment manufacturers, supplying local and international markets.
Campaigners say workers in the industry are mainly young women from poor, illiterate and low-caste communities, who work up to 12 hours a day, and often face intimidation, sexual remarks and harassment.
T.G. Vinay, the administrative head of Dindigul district, where the mill is based, said it would be "of serious concern" if Balasubramani had been 14 years old. He said the case is being investigated.
"We are awaiting our own probe report and will intensify measures to ensure girls don't drop out of school, and more frequent inspection of factories takes place to prevent such incidents," he said.
A local rights group, the Serene Secular Social Service Society, said it had documented the deaths of at least 10 workers at mills in western Tamil Nadu in the past four months.
"Instead of trying to improve labour conditions, mills are buying the silence of families by giving a small, one-time compensation for the deaths," said S. James Victor, director of the Dindigul-based charity.
(Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj, Editing by Robert Carmichael and Katy Migiro; this piece was originally published on February 8, 2018 in Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)