Where are the tribals unhappy with Trinamool Congress? Nearly 700 processing units have downed their shutters in Kollam, the world’s bucket shops forex factory processing capital. Her mother took her to the nearest cashew factory when she was 10 years old. At 52, she sits hunched over a heap of sooty nuts.
There is sadness in her eyes. She looks at her hands — dark, dirty, bearing the permanent burn marks of the caustic cashew sap. She has never worn safety gloves. We are back to work after four months, but we know this is just for a few days. Sujatha is one among the 2. 5 lakh skilled labourers, all of them women, struggling for survival in Kollam in south Kerala.
They lost their livelihood when the cashew sector plunged into an unprecedented crisis two years ago. 5,000 crore and providing stable employment. But with nearly 700 factories in Kollam district downing their shutters, the sector is on a downward spiral, with exports down to half of what they were three years ago. Scarcity of steady work over the last couple of years has forced many of the women to take up odd jobs, including at construction sites and as cleaners in offices. No safety netAKM Cashews in Parippally, 23 km from Kollam city, has just reopened, its chimney belching out smoke after a long break.
Inside the shelling unit you find women sitting in rows, nearly half of them above the age of 50. In the middle sits Lakshmi, 83, with stooped shoulders and high-index glasses. She agrees that age has finally caught up with her. Her frail hands can’t shell the quantity they once used to. Lakshmi came to Kollam, the erstwhile cashew processing capital of the world, as a bride in the 1950s. She quickly became a part of the multicrore industry. I have been doing this for over 50 years, so when I’m out of work it’s really hard to scrape through.