Manufacturing jaggery after Palmyra tapping is a major occupation for the people of Vembar in Tuticorin district of Tamil Nadu. The Palmyra tapping is done by men, who climb a minimum of 40 trees a day to collect the juice called ‘neera’. Tappers climb the trees thrice a day which requires hefty physical labour.
The season for Palmyra tapping comes after the withdrawal of the South-East monsoon in January and goes on till the onset of North-West monsoon. This usually coincides with the Tamil months of Thai and Aadi.
Once the juice is collected, the invisibilized women, boil this juice and turn them into what sells like hot cakes; karupatti. If boiling of the juice is delayed after its collection, it loses its value and is not suitable for making jaggery. Ironically, this instant labour goes unnoticed and all the talk is about how the tapping process is an art carried out by men despite its dangers.
During this season, the women weave thatch baskets that are used for packaging of the jaggery produced.
When the produce is sold in the market, it is transported in these thatch baskets which are made by the women of the house after they complete the process of boiling. In a day, a woman weaves around 10-15 baskets which have a carrying capacity of 10kg. Each basket fetches a price ranging from Rs 5 to Rs 8. In peak season, the women get Rs 8 for the basket (Rs 5) and a lid (Rs 3), and in off season they get a total sum of Rs 5.
If the amount of jaggery being produced and sold in these baskets is calculated, it mounts up to 100kg-120kg approximately. The men, who are the face of this profession, earn around Rs 600- Rs 800 for that quantity.
The income disparity is so telling and stark here. To say, a woman individually earns only a maximum of Rs 120 a day, as she is only known as the weaver. The efforts of these women in karupatti preparations are overlooked and ignored. Every year during the peak season there is a sudden drop out of female students in school. The girls assist their mothers in weaving
The women of Vembar and Roachmanagar see no hope of improvement because the families are neck deep in debts for most part of the year. Some women have found an alternative use to their weaving skills.