For decades, governments of India have taken turns to rule, change policies, ditch old schemes and introduce new ones, but no change has made much differences for the tea workers of Assam who have been slogging hard to earn two square meals a day on a meagre wage.
A population of about 70 lakhs, Assam’s tea workers, saw a promising dawn of day in 2014 with the arrival of the BJP government lead by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who had expressed concern for the living conditions of the tea workers and low wage and promised betterment during his campaigning that year.
Consequently, the tea tribe community shifted their faith from Congress to BJP and voted the latter to power in a hope to wish their troubles goodbye.
Five years later now, however, the tea workers, who have been following their forefathers’ line of occupation since colonial times, still haven’t seen the light of the day in terms of higher wage and are struggling with the lack of basic amenities, reports TOI.
Lack of sufficient of water (one tubewell for five families), mud huts for shelter that collapse during rain, one neglected old building for health centre that provides treatment only for cold and cough are some of the persistent problems the workers have to deal with everyday.
“For any other kind of medical emergency, we are told to go to Assam Medical College, which is a 30-minute drive,” mentions Shyamchand Nayak, a 62-yearold tea worker.
Also, lack of toilets force the workers and their families to relieve in the open.
Working unflinchingly from 7.30 in the morning to 4 in the evening with an hour long lunch break at noon, the tea workers in Assam’s Brahmaputra Valley earn Rs 167 a day while those in Barak Valley earn Rs 137 as compared tea workers in Kerala who earn Rs 310 a day, Karnataka Rs 263, Tamil Nadu Rs 241 and West Bengal Rs 176.
Despite living under primitive conditions, the tea workers have to adapt to new age government set-ups even though they may cause further hurdles to their day-to-day lives.
As a result of demonetization, the cash-dependent tea workers struggled with inconvenience in their payment for about a year till the cashless payment system smoothened out for them.
“Earlier, we were paid in cash. A year ago, we got bank accounts and now we have to go to the ATM, which is about 2 km away,” said tea worker Sabitri Nayak, 50.