Monday, December 15, 2014

The Bitterness of Tea


She, the Producer
Today, 15 Dec, is observed as International Tea Day by countries producing tea.  What the Day brings to my mind primarily is the picture of a tea picker I came across in one of the undulating tea plantations in Darjeeling when Maggie (my wife) and I were on a holiday trip in June 2010.  When the woman noticed us, she came rather shyly and offered her basket to Maggie asking if she wanted a photo with that basket on her back.  In the conversation that followed, the worker listed her grievances.  She was paid a pittance by the plantation owner.  She had to work for endless hours and walk down the hill to the factory where she had to deposit the collected leaves.  She pointed at a distant building and said, “That’s the place I have to take these leaves to.  A long and arduous walk down the hill.  And then the return climb...”  The tourists who paid her Rs 10 for lending her basket for a photo were a very munificent source of income for her in contrast to her employer.

Three years after my encounter with that tea worker, the Guardian published a report titled ‘How poverty wages for tea pickers fuel India's trade in child slavery.’  A tea plantation worker is paid 12 pence an hour, according to the report.  As a result poverty is rampant among the workers and their girl children are trafficked across the country and outside.

I received a mail from the Walk Free Foundation today with a request for support to
I, the Consumer
their campaign for tea workers, particularly asking Tata to do justice to the workers.  Of course, Tata is not the only estate owner that underpays the workers.  But the Foundation feels that “Of all the possible players, Tata Global Beverages has the power to do the most good in this situation and that is why we are calling on them to engage.”

A cup of tea in a shopping mall costs nothing less than Rs 50, a shocking disparity with what a tea picker earns in an hour.  When we dream about the much vaunted development that the malls and clean India symbolise, perhaps we may be ignoring some dark realities crying for attention in many parts of the country, not just in the remote tea gardens.  


This does not mean we don’t need development.  It only means that development cannot be one-sided.  There is gross injustice in such one-sidedness.  As Bryan Stevenson said, “The opposite of poverty is not wealth. In too many places, the opposite of poverty is justice.”

9 comments:

  1. Thanks for reminding us the 'International Tea Day' ...the hapless condition of tea pickers of Assam and Darjeeling is unknown to public. :-(

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    1. And many of the tea estate owners are people who preach big morality from certain platforms!

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  2. ......the opposite of poverty is justice. every walk of life we want it!

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    1. And there are many, too many, in India who are deprived of it.

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  3. Thanks for this insightful post. Have heard many stories about all kinds of exploitations that happen on large tea estates, wish more NGOs come forward to enlighten the common man about the bitter truth behind their sweet cuppa.

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    1. The irony is that enterprises like Tata don't need to indulge in such injustice and unfairness. They talk of corporate responsibility and perform some drama in its name while their own employees suffer all kinds of indignities.

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  4. At the end of the day I guess the only thing that is important is the profits and at what cost is it being done is completely and conveniently ignored.

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    1. I wonder why people, as they grow old at least, fail to realise that so much profit (or anything of the sort) is not required at all. Instead of grabbing, give it away and make the world a better place and one will find much more happiness...

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  5. Very disturbing though many farm workers (not just in tea plantations) face this. They need to organize themselves to fight this. NGOs can help build awareness. When they are struggling so much why there is no leader born in them yet?

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The group is always right

While having a frugal breakfast of dosa with chutney, I watched my wife’s face.   Pain was writ large on it.   Two days of struggle ...