A conversation with a Tea Garden Worker
Me: What’s your daily routine and wage?
Her: We have to reach the tea garden at 7 AM (latecomers are sent away) and work till 4 or sometimes 5 in the evening. Until the truck comes to fetch us and the supervisors tell us it’s time to go home we have to remain in the garden. The leaves are then weighed and we are paid around 150 on a good season. (No work during offseason.)There is a certain amount /quota we have the pick in a day. If we pick extra tea leaves we are paid 2-3 rs extra per kg. However, if we finish picking them before noon we are paid only half day. No matter even if we finish the quota and pick extra. So we are, in a way, forced to pick the whole day if we want to earn the full amount and extra.
Me: Do they provide umbrellas, water or any other amenities?
Her: No, Water, food, umbrella etc are all our own. Even the cloth bags are our own. The tea leaves are transferred to the company’s green bags in the tea factory itself.
Me: Any complaints?
Her: What can I say? It brings food to my plate. This is the only season I can earn money. It would be good if they raised the wages. But I cannot afford to protest.
The lady I spoke to happens to be my neighbour and works in the plains of Siliguri (Gulma Tea Estate). In the hilly areas of Darjeeling whose tea is sold at auctions for almost 19,000 Rs per kg, the labourers are paid 130-172 rs per day. This is a sad condition of labour struggle in the tea gardens and cinchona plantations (my own grandparents were labourers here) of North Bengal.
Writes – @HinduGorkha