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DAWN rises in Darjeeling to save starving tea garden workers
It is Darjeeling Tea, which has granted Darjeeling a special place in the global map. But, unfortunately, it is not tea, which is grabbing headlines, but the tea garden workers dying due to starvation in the Red Bank tea estate in Dooars, which is gaining prominence every single day. 32 deaths have been reported since October 2013, where people are 'just surviving' without any food in their stomach. Their kitchen utensils have been left empty since long and no political party has come forward to save these workers, instead they turn a blind eye.

One fails to understand the lack of negligence by the Bengal government, which earns a huge share of revenue from Darjeeling tea. The government has always denied starvation. Not being able to solve problems is one thing, but completely ignoring it outright requires special courage and shame. People of Darjeeling have been a subject of subjugation for years now. 

Owing to such pathetic condition of the workers and irresponsible Bengal government, few youths of Darjeeling have decided to take the matter in their own hands. As a result, a group of like-minded people from different walks of life are putting in extra hours just to make sure that those hands, which plucked those first/second flush are looked after, not just today, but in the long term as well. The group is known as DAWN (Darjeeling & Dooars Tea Garden Workers Relief Organisation).

Supreet Raj, one of the members of the group said, ''We are here for the long run. Things might have just started, but we are on the right track. But, for the future, we need to provide employment to these tea garden workers.'' After the Red Bank tea garden came to a complete close, the workers are left with no scope to earn.

But, it is too early for the group to make any ambitious calls, as they have just kick started their initiative. In this short frame, they have gained a certain momentum in their project as they have already started to receive small funds from various local people in the hills. The funds as of now, have been outlined to provide relief to the tea garden workers in the form of ration.

Supreet added, ''The tea garden workers have limited skills. Besides, plucking leaves, they have no expertise. But, what we can do is provide them skill building training for carpentry, tailoring etc, which will help them earn for their living.'' This can give these workers the much needed employment to go outside their comfort zone and work in the neighbouring areas as well.

DAWN is not the only group, which is working towards providing relief to the starving workers. Team Who Cares is another similar group, which is doing an excellent job providing pulses, rice and other basic amenities to the people in the estate. On 18th of April, there were few such groups, who were doing voluntary service in the tea estate.

Pallawib Rai did all the ground work for DAWN, highlighting some important issues. He talked about his experience in the estate.

''Once we reached Red Bank tea garden, it was a different world all together. Poverty has painted a very sad and painful picture. We were aware about the conditions, but we were left startled, when we saw people in the garden with their torn clothes and residents mostly malnourished. It is no wonder that a tea garden, which has been shut for long will have to struggle for living, but we had not expected that people were surviving in such condition just few miles away from where we reside spending our life in utter comfort.''

''A meal for a day could dry their wet eyes. Faces were shrunk, eyes reflected hunger, bodies so deliberately show illness. There are people who have been ill for more than five months and the basic medical facility of their rural dispensary is too less for their disease. A good hospital in a big city is unaffordable for them, as they have no cash to take care of their ailing body, they rather count their days.''

''Water is a huge problem. There are big hand pumps installed by gram panchayat, which according to a local approximately gives 10 litres of water for 150 pumps. A secretary of local labour union Mr. Oraon believes 'hand pumps are real cause of TB.' It is strange to know that hand pump causes TB, but we can imagine how difficult it is to manually pump a hand pump hundred times for few litres of water on an empty stomach. The unfiltered water that literally tasted iron must be adding to diseases there. Most of the houses are in a pathetic state.''

The above description of Pallawib reflects the sorry state of the tea garden workers. One can draw comparison with the starving death related cases in Africa and other underdeveloped countries of the world. And with such pathetic untold condition, India claims to be one of the most developing countries. For the nation to develop, such issues need to be highlighted, else the disparity between the rich and the poor will only increase manifold, thus threatening such tea industries, which has been a subject of neglect for many years now. Will the government ever wake up?

''Death by starvation is what I found completely appalling and unacceptable. Indian tea industry boasts of of having over 20 percent global production and 12 percent international market share worth of billions of dollars. Even in the domestic market, tea is one of the most consumed products. And then, on the other side we have closed estates, abandoned gardens, unpaid workers, dying of hunger, in today's age, which is not justified, '' said Dhayan, one of the members of the group.

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