The Story Behind That Aromatic Cup of Tea


Have you ever wondered what is the long and effort-laden story behind your morning cup of tea that you enjoy everyday?

For us Indians, the day does not take off unless we have our “chai”. And, even during monsoon, the hot combo – a cup of chai and samosa is irreplaceable.

India is the largest producer of tea in the world and the beautiful spread of tea gardens in the North East part of the country does have a unique story to tell. Here, we will talk about the tea gardens of Assam. Assam is the oldest and the largest tea-producing state of India. But, a reality check reveals that the state that puts so much love into a cup of tea for rest of the world, doesn’t have much to offer for its own labour force – the people who lovingly nurture every leaf!!

Assam is responsible for more than 55% of the world’s tea production and for such a huge production platform, it requires a massive spread of labour force. Women’s involvement in the tea estates of Assam can be traced back to the very origins of the tea tradition. Women comprises of 80% of the labour force, who dedicate their days to crop-harvesting and plantation.

Plight of women workers in the tea gardens of Assam  

Women are subject to various atrocities in the workplace in every part of the world and, women in the tea gardens of Assam are no exception. The women, who are employed in the tea business are mostly from economically backward background and thus they are defenceless and sensitive. These women are dominated by their male counterparts, both at the household and the occupational levels.

Atrocities faced by women tea planters

  • Discrimination in wages: Women in these tea plantations face discrimination in wage rates, in spite of working harder than their male counterparts. As they are considered the weaker sex in our country, they are liable to such exploitation. And they tolerate it silently, in fear of losing the day’s work. Today the condition is a bit improved after the fixation of minimum wage rate in the legislation named Equal Remuneration Act, which clearly states men and women should get equal pay for equal amount of work.
  • Women are assigned lower status both functionally and socially: Women are treated unequal by the plantation owners and hence, they face different kinds of abuse and ill treatment.
  • The plantation women are subject to very little exposure to the world beyond these tea gardens: These women are not very literate and have very little information about the schemes and policies that exist for the benefit of them. They are also unaware about the women rights that they can enjoy. Their ignorance leads to various gender discriminations and inequalities in the tea industry.
  • Child labour and child marriage: Families who work in the plantation business are generally economically backward and many times below poverty line because of the low pay that they get. The low family income forces these families to wed off their girl children or employ them in tea gardens, so that they don’t remain a burden or a liability for the family. Hence, they drop out from school and get married or are sent off to work.
  • Alcoholism and domestic violence: Domestic violence cases are very much prevalent in tea garden areas. Men of the houses are generally idle and addicted to country beer. This addiction leads to domestic violence in most of the houses.

Government to the rescue

The Government has laid down few policies and legislations for the welfare of plantation workers, as they face tremendous atrocities. These legislations that act as rescue measures for these women are:

  • Plantation Labour Act 1951

The Act ensures safe drinking water, crèche facilities, schools, health clinics and sanitation for women workers. It has also highlighted maternity leaves for women and provident fund facilities.

  • Equal Remuneration Act, 1976

The Act ensures equal pay to both men and women for equal amount of work. It subjects the employers to severe punishment, if they cross the boundaries of this law and discriminate women in their tea gardens.

In spite of the various legislations, schemes and policies laid down by the Government for the women in this sector, they remain vulnerable and are subject to various atrocities from the employers and their male counterparts. It is very important to empower them functionally and socially so that they can fight for their own rights.

They must be made aware of their rights, for then only will the status of the women of this society improve. And, then only can they hope for a better future!!

 (Author: Madhura Chakrabarty)

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