Women do not enjoy higher mobility as compared to male workers in Assam, they are left behind with almost no prospect
Huge cane baskets on their back, navigating through the picturesque tea plantations—pictures of women workers in the Assam tea gardens have long have been seen as picture perfect. However in reality most workers on tea plantations live and work in terrible conditions earning very low wages.
Low Income and Poor Living Condition
Low income, poor living and safety conditions forces many workers, especially men, to migrate from these plantations. Tea plantation workers in Assam are paid only Rs. 167 per day as cash wage which is almost half of the State minimum wage. “My husband Dinu left Assam in search of better options. Even after toiling from morning to evening, we were barely making the ends meet,” says 23-year-old Rini, a tea plantation worker who had to stay behind and has to take care of her children all by herself.
Women like Rini, who do not enjoy higher mobility as compared to male workers in the region, are left behind with almost no prospect. Most of the tea plantation workers are Adivasis and are restricted within the housing settlements provided by the plantations. They are almost completely cut-off from the social and economic life outside the plantations curtailing their access to alternative jobs. “We don’t know where else to go,” she adds.
Women constitute a mighty 52% of the total workforce at the tea plantations.
Women workers who migrate from nearby states to Assam in search of a livelihood rarely know of the abysmal living conditions at a tea plantation. Living conditions are terrible and workers in most plantations live in broken or makeshift houses with no sanitation facility.
Migrant Workers Lack Representation
The women workers become easy target for exploitative plantation owner who prey on their vulnerabilities. Women workers, who are mostly migrants, are less prone to raising their voices and lack support from others in the community is often bullied by them. “Our wages are arbitrarily deducted even for minute mistakes. But extra-time never counts. We get a meager Rs 1.50 per extra kg,” says Usha who migrated to Assam almost 12 years ago.
There is a glaring disconnect from the world beyond the plantation. This often leaves the workers prone to discrimination and exploitation.
Representation of women in management and trade unions is completely missing. This limits their ability to raise grievances and any concerns. Fearing abuse or losing their job they refrain from raising their voice against any injustice.
No Health-Care Facilities
As per the Plantation Labour Act plantation owners are supposed to provide health care for its workers. However, in most cases the health facilities available at the moment are either in poor condition or situated around 10-12 km away from the sites. According to the government report, five major tea growing districts in the Upper Assam—Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Sibsagar, Jorhat, Golaghat—had a collective maternal mortality ratio of 404 per 100,000 live births in 2013, which is close to the ratios in sub-Saharan Africa. Of the children who survive life in a plantation is no bed of soft leaves.
“There is nowhere I can keep my child,” says Usha who is also a nursing mother. “I have to carry my child along to the field. There’s no other alternative so I carry him around on my shoulders while I pluck leaves,” she adds. In absence of any crèche facility, older children are generally left at Aganwadi centers with only one person to look after all of them. These Aganwadi centers are ill-equipped often with broken roofs and floors; also there is hardly any food to feed those children.
Malnutrition amongst children and women is quite common, and there is no nutrition center to take care of it. In case of any admission to the hospitals due to the same, the doctors just put them on saline drips.
(All names have been changed to protect identities.)