Photographer Ryan Lobo, commissioned by C&A Foundation, has met women building their future under harsh working conditions. Some of them have graciously shared their personal stories of love, struggle and hope for the future with us.
My name is Ruthra and I am 20 years old. I have worked in the mills for the last year and a half. At first, I hated working there, because I couldn't even hear myself speak. The noise in the mill is like a roar that never ends. I'm often tired and I find it difficult to speak. After leaving the mill it takes a while to adjust to silence.
I work an eight-hour shift every day and my shifts rotate every week, so I also have to work nights. Since my night shifts change, I find it difficult to sleep. Also, cotton dust is very fine, but until now we were not provided with breathing masks and so a lot of the girls suffer breathing issues. Today we are being given breathing masks by TTCU (Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labor Union) and 5s (Serene Secular Social Service Society).
Even though I hate working in the mills, I do it to help out my mother. I have two older sisters and a younger brother. My parents are divorced and my brother and I live with my mother, who works as a coolie (an unskilled labourer). She earns very little, about 80 rupees (EURO 1) a day doing manual labour on construction sites. The money I make at the mills - 6,000 rupees a month (EURO 75) – is crucial for my mother and brother.
I have also been able to help my sisters. I am proud that I could help pay for my sister's marriage. Here in India a woman's marriage is very important, but it's expensive, because the girl's family needs to pay a dowry to the boy's family. I also helped get my other sister a job as a schoolteacher by bribing a local government official.
What I really want to do with my wages, though, is make sure my mother is secure. First, I will help pay off the debt she has with the moneylenders. She owes about 100,000 rupees (EURO 1,250) and the interest rate is so high it eats into her earnings. My dream is to buy a plot of land so my mother has a place. She is alone and needs that security. After that I will consider getting married. Right now, all I want is for her to be safe and secure and I will not rest until that happens.
Ruthra's story reminds us of the incredible resilience of the people who work in the garment industry. At C&A Foundation, we remain committed to working together with partners like Freedom Fund and 5s to make fashion a force for good.
Photography by Ryan Lobo
“I am proud of what I have done with my earnings. I helped my sisters and brother. And I will not rest until my mother is safe and secure.”Sumangali worker Ruthra (20)