A sweeping change in their lives


THEIR's IS a rare skill. They work where others visit only in an emergency. Their workplaces are dirty and stinking - they clean toilets.

About 40 women sanitary workers, mostly employed part- time in the city Corporation schools, are now emerging as entrepreneurs.

Two groups of 20 women each have now set up shop - the Aran Jyoti Mart and the Navayuga Mart - to sell their most essential tools: phenyl. They mix the chemicals and bottle them ready for use.

The product list, though, is not restricted to sanitary materials alone. Their ``Sanitary Mart'' stocks products that range from turmeric powder and cloves to Horlicks and Boost among 70 other items. It does not stink any more.

The Adi Andhra tribe, counterparts of the Adi Dravidar community here, migrated from Nellore and Prakasam districts of Andhra Pradesh to Tamil Nadu about 100 years ago.

Primarily farm workers and cobblers, their settlement spread throughout the city and other parts of the State. Unemployed and mostly unskilled, they took to scavenging as their only means of livelihood. And the brooms were passed down the generations.

It was easy to exploit them, and they were exploited. Even today, many are struggling for permanent jobs as scavengers. As part- time employees, they are paid less than Rs. 150 a month. Often, even that amount is not given on time. Yet they survive. The sanitary workers, determined to break away from the tag of generations, purchase the ingredients wholesale, package them and market the goods in the slums they live. Most products are non- perishables to ensure complete sales.

The Tamil Nadu Adi Dravidar Housing and Development Corporation (TAHDCO), following a Central Government proposal, sanctioned loans of Rs. 4 lakhs each to the two marts. Half the loan is subsidised and is payable over five years.

Just a week into the scheme ``the sanitary workers are now discussing innovative ventures,'' said an official of Janodayam, an NGO working for scavengers in the city.

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