We all enjoy a cup of tea. Tea is India’s national drink and takes pride of place in the food and travel industry. Darjeeling tea is a souvenir carried home by tourists from all over the world. Yet the hands that pluck those leaves are dying.
TWO LEAVES and a bud…two leaves and a bud…hands get busy, plucking, at all tea gardens. Eight hours a day, bent over the tea plantation, they work rhythmically and with professional precision. Most pluckers, as we see in movies and pictures, are women in their 30s or 40s, bent over, with huge baskets slung across their backs. They all have families to feed. With almost no job security, no health facilities, working at the whims of managers, owners and labour leaders, they carry on in this manner all their lives, until the garden closes or their life span is cut short by malnutrition, poor health, benefits and facilities.
Gita is one of the many pluckers at a sick tea garden (which may close anytime) in Doars, West Bengal, India. She lost her two toddlers to untreated diarrhoea and malnutrition. Her husband is ill and unemployed. Her two school-going kids receive mid-day meals at a school nearby. She has a six-month-old infant and she is not aware of government’s ICDS scheme that provides ration and pre-natal care to pregnant women. She plucks for eight hours a day for an industry which doesn’t care for her.
Gita is one of many tea industry workers. In the last two years, many tea gardens have either fallen sick or shut down. There is no social security for the scores of men and women who toil at the garden and live in labour lines. More than 1,00,000 workers of the tea industry have been affected. And the most affected are children who are born to malnourished mothers and endure malnutrition all their life (Sunita, Gita’s daughter lived only for three years).
We all enjoy a cup of tea. Tea is India’s national drink and commands the pride of place in the food and travel industry. Darjeeling tea is a souvenir carried home by tourists from all over the world. Yet the hands diligently plucking those leaves are dying. Hidden and unseen behind the serene beauty of the tea gardens are the tears and fears of the workers and their bleak future. They need our help. The next time you travel and marvel at tea gardens, be sure you ask the managers and owners what health facilities and benefits they have in place for their workers and families. Interact with the workers and ensure that they are made aware of labour laws and health programmes. Only the informed can help the uninformed understand the rights and choices they are entitled to.