|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
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.”
|I, the Consumer|
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.”