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Time for cottage industries to cash in on election season

R. Sujatha

Sewing units get orders for stitching party flags and badges

— PHOTO: V. GANESAN

BUSY HANDS: During the election season women employed at a unit in Tiruvottiyur in North Chennai work 10 to 12 hours everyday making streamers for political parties.

CHENNAI: For many who own a couple of sewing machines in areas such as Vyasarpadi, Washermenpet and Tiruvottiyur, the election season spells boom time. At least a dozen, if not more such sewing units, are busy stitching election trimmings such as cloth flags, runners and badges.

J. Prabakar has been in the business since 1972. He says he is indebted to former Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran (MGR). Prabakar designed the ‘two leaves’ symbol on the flag. “MGR suggested my name to NTR when he formed the Telugu Desam Party and I designed the party flag for him too,” he claimed. Today, he has an administrative office in Teynampet and a factory in Tiruvottiyur, where he prepares flags, banners and badges for many political parties.

Sometimes when he gets many orders he finds it difficult to deliver them on time, he said.

Business picks up once political parties announce their candidates and campaigning schedules. But the restrictions imposed by the Election Commission have been a blow to these cottage industries.

S. Parivallal of Washermenpet has been stitching flags and badges since he was 12, but does not find it lucrative. “Five years ago we used to take up screen printing in a small way. This is my full-time job during election season. Even during ordinary days political parties need flags and banners,” he said, adding: “But business is dull during Deepavali, Ayudha Puja and Pongal. I have two sewing machines. We work for 10 to 12 hours a day during election season and manage to make Rs. 3,000 a month.”

For flags used atop car bonnets he gets paid 50 paise a flag. In normal days, the work would be done in half a workday and he makes ends meet by taking up jobs such as loading sacks or painting houses.

The small units prefer to deal with brokers and not directly with political parties fearing they would not be paid for their work.

Meena and her husband have set up a unit with five machines. They stitch garments for the export market and take up stitching flags only during the election season. They manage to prepare 200 packets, each containing about 20,000 streamers and flags. “We get a small commission as we operate through brokers.” Bigger orders mean more pairs of hands to work. “We actually lose because we also have to pay for the labour. Two pairs of hands are not enough,” Meena’s husband said.

K. Ezhilarasan, who has been in the business for three years, also makes badges. He earns Rs. 400 to Rs. 500 for badges and Rs. 700 to Rs. 800 a day for flags. “It is a cottage industry and I can make only 400 packets. We buy materials such as thread and the loops needed to stitch the flags. My father and I take up the stitching. I also have to look after the marketing side,” he said.

“We manage to make ends meet.”

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