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The whir of machine goes on at work

K. Lakshmi

Though they toil for their survival, flour mill workers stay in the same job

— Photo: M.Karunakaran

NO GRINDING HALT: Despite occupational hazards, many flour mill workers are in the job. A worker in Neelankarai.

CHENNAI: The whirring of flour mills at regular intervals is an indicator of their presence to people in the neighbourhood. Flour mill workers spend most part of their life amid deafening noise of the machines and the strong smell of freshly ground flour and chilli powder, to earn a meagre amount.

“Initially, I found it difficult to adjust to the noise that the machines generate. But, over the years I realised that only if the noise remains, I will be able to make some decent amount of money,” said A.Muthupandi, who has been operating a flour mill for over a decade.

“I started working in a flour mill from the age of 16. This job demands a lot of concentration as we use our hands to shove the materials when the machines are operated,” he pointed out.

With readymade masala powders and flours becoming popular, the business of many flour mills is on the decline and some even run the risk of closure. T.Srinivasan who has been in the business for over two decades said: “Many people opt for the readymade stuff as they do not have time to dry pulses and spices and bring them to the flour mill. There, however, are several people who still prefer to prepare some snacks at home, particularly for festivals.”

On an average, he operates the machines for six hours every day. “During festivals, I work an hour more to compete with the few other mills left in the industry,” he said. “I earn between Rs.100 and Rs.200 every day. I get Rs.100-Rs.150 more during festive season,” said Mr.Srinivasan.

Disruption in power supply and rain also impact the profit they make in a day. “I spend at least Rs.100 every week towards maintenance of the machinery. After paying shop rent and electricity bills, I am left with half the monthly earnings for the family,” said D.Raja, a flour mill worker.

Besides enduring noise pollution, those in such jobs are also exposed to health risks such as respiratory problems and skin irritations. Several workers complained of cold and cough owing to their constant exposure to flour dust. “I often have burning sensation on my face and hands after grinding chillies and coriander seeds. Doctor advised me to wear face mask during work. But, it is not possible to do so at all times,” Mr.Raja said.

Though they have to toil for their daily survival, several flour mill workers prefer to stay in the same jobs. “This is the only trade that I have mastered over the years. I would rather continue in this job than tread an unknown territory,” Mr.Raja said.

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