Tea is the most widely consumed beverage worldwide, with 2 billion cups of tea consumed worldwide.
In India, tea is considered the most refreshing drink, with over 850 million people sipping from their cup of tea each day.
People are enjoying this healthy, quality, imparting beverage for years. Moreover, Assam tea, in particular, is valued by the consumers for its rich and aromatic flavor.
The Assam tea industry has shown rapid growth and expansion in its production over the years.
At the same time, there has been rising concern about the workers and their deteriorating condition in the same industry.
This article will unfold these ironies; unmask the real face behind the suffering of the poor.
Behind this cheerful demeanor is the story of destitution and immense suffering.
Several pieces of research have highlighted the plight of these small tea workers.
Lack of awareness and poor living conditions where people live in mud houses with tinned roofs with marshy surroundings, neglected by the government and non-nutritious dietary practices make them more vulnerable to diseases like tuberculosis and gastrointestinal disorders, diarrhoea, etc.
Government data reveals that around 17% of tea garden workers die of deadly diseases like tuberculosis in Assam.
Lack of education and ignorance is another prime reason for their sufferings without any means of escape.
The ‘Colonial Mindset’ still prevails amongst the workers where big power holders take advantage, and this has been lucid for them to carry on for ages because of lack of proper education for the workers because of which they could not liberate their mind to fight their own battles and free themselves from the bars of discrimination.
The big tycoons, wealthy politicians, and the corrupted figurehead of the worker associations always tend to manipulate them in such a place so that the dice falls in their side in any situation.
Their role-play hardly does any good to the workers in real but leaves the workers in deep confusion about who is trustworthy and who is not.
Women workers who are the major contributor in these industries are the ones who face significant vulnerabilities.
Victims of child marriage, low life expectancy, victims of poor health conditions majorly anaemic, often left deserted by their husbands after bearing children.
The prevalence of vector-borne diseases soon after the monsoon, which is a yearly affair and acute malnutrition, is the real face of their agonies.
The unpaid domestic works followed by 13 hours of labor-intensive work in the field are low paid at the same time throws light over the loud cry for relief from the unjust system.
Therefore even after financial independence, they are dominated and left vulnerable, which is again the result of a deep-rooted colonial mindset.
These constraints for the growth and development of these small plights of tea workers directly point out the Plantation Labor Act 1951, which failed to cater to the needs at grass root level where the fragile section of people more sensitive and vulnerable.
Secondly, the minimum wage paid to them with majorly ₹145 paid per day.
Now, another important question arises is that –
‘Is it just the fault of the owners of tea estates for such condition? Is it all about the fisherman killing the small fishes or the story is more than that?’
With more research and interview with a specific company’s officials, several chapters were unfolded.
The company’s primary concerns were the big fishes that were killing the small ones who gain the maximum fruit invested by the company for the welfare of the workers.
These big fishes were mainly labor union leaders.
The superior workers who created conflicts between the wage earners and the company resulted in widening the distance and destroying the work culture, the significant mis-managements and the negligence of politicians towards the betterment of the workers.
There were few other dimensions which were also responsible for such condition.
The superstitious belief of the community, lack of education, addiction, and the consumption of country liquor and borrowing loans from private banks with substantial interest are some of the primary reasons for the workers’ challenges.
As it is rightly said to every problem, there is always a solution.
Similarly, in this case, also, there is a solution.
All it needs is public participation, working for the upliftment of these vulnerable sections of society, raising awareness, and government working for Assam for its welfare.
- Addressing the human cost of Assam tea by Oxfam.
- The small tea growers in Assam by IIT Guwahati.