Knitwear’s race to the bottom

Knitwear’s race to the bottom

Very morning, dozens of buses arrive with relentless regularity at the high security gates of the Netaji Apparel Park, in Tirupur. This is a brand new, spic-and-span 'Industrial Estate' at the outer bounds of the old town. The buses come from all directions, having snaked their ways through miles and miles of dusty village tracks, with the precise, measured tread of an army convoy ferrying soldiers to a remote war post. At their destination, their blaring klaxons temporarily silenced by the screaming wails of banshee sirens, they disgorge hundreds of villagers. These are mostly young women, who disappear into the large factory complexes lurking behind imposing, fortified gates, entirely masking the view inside. At every gate, a visitor is liable to find a torn-off piece of cardboard carton inscribed with two prominent legends: Labour Wanted and No Child Labour. Both are telling in their own way. The people consumed by this giant apparatus will emerge in due course – some after eight hours, but the majority after 12, perhaps 16 hours, trooping back into their allotted buses, to be ferried back to their village homes.

Welcome to Tirupur, Tamil Nadu, also known variously as Knit City, T-Shirt City and sometimes even Dollar City. This is perhaps the only urban area in India with negative unemployment, with more jobs here than there are people. It is for this reason that factories here are forced to haul in their workforce from as far as 60 kilometres away. Over the past two decades, Tirupur's growth has been exponential, rising from annual export revenue of INR 750 million in 1987 to more than INR 110 billion last year. In more ways than one, Tirupur has largely become the beacon of New India.

Loading content, please wait...
Himal Southasian
www.himalmag.com