CHENNAI: Two mothers have approached a court in south India seeking help to "free" their daughters from a spinning mill where they work, raising questions on the freedom of movement of thousands of women employed in the Indian textile and garment industry. Ellamal Raman, 17, and her cousin Bhuvaneshwari, 18, have not been allowed to leave the KPR Mill Limited's Karumathampatti premises in Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu state since September, according to their mothers.

In their petition to the court - heard yesterday - the mothers said that the teenagers have developed severe rashes on their hands, have been bitten by bed bugs and require treatment. "My daughter has called home many times since, begging me to bring her back home," Raman's mother Chinnaponnu told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone. "Last night she was crying and saying she can't do the work. She has rashes on her hands and the mill won't let them out."

KPR Mills Limited - one of the largest manufacturers of yarn in the region, producing approximately 90,000 metric tons of cotton annually - said the women were being fairly treated. Thangavelu Karrupasamy, a manager at the mills, said the girls were being paid minimum wages of 332 rupees ($5) per day and their medical needs were being taken care of. "Since they joined only in September, they are entitled leave to go home only later this month, during Pongal (harvest festival)," he said. "The police have come and checked on the girls and we have asked the parents to come to the mill." There are more than 1,500 mills in Tamil Nadu, the biggest hub for textile and manufacturers in India, employing up to 400,000 workers to turn cotton into yarn, fabric and clothes.

A majority of the young workers are drawn from poor families and are housed in hostels within the factory or mill premises. The workers, mostly women, are confined to their hostels after their shifts and are only allowed a weekly visit to the neighborhood market with escorts, campaigners say. "Like most mills, this one also has high fenced walls and a lot of security," said Raj Kumar, the lawyer representing the two mothers. "It is impossible for anyone to enter or leave the mill premises without the permission of the management." The mothers had not been allowed to remove the two teenagers, Kumar said. Yesterday, the court directed the police to produce the teenagers before them on Jan. 11, the next date of hearing.- Reuters