||This article possibly contains original research. (October 2010)|
The Tea-tribes are tribes that were brought by the British colonial planters as indentured labourers from the Chhota Nagpur Plateau region. They are found mainly in the districts of Darrang, Sonitpur, Nagaon, Jorhat, Golaghat, Dibrugarh, Cachar, Hailakandi, Karimganj Tinsukia and almost all the districts of Assam in India. Santhali speakers are also found in parts of Kokrajhar and Bongaigaon districts. The population of Santali speakers is about 135,900.
General physical characteristics are: dark complexion, sometimes curly hair, round features and wide nostrils, high cheek bones.
One of the backward and most exploited tribes in India, though newer generation are comparatively educated and we now have intellectuals and professionals in various fields. The Tea tribes, being basically labourers, live in villages, inside tea-estates (established by tea-planters. These estates are located in interior places and this contributes to the backwardness and exploitation of them by the tea-planters. The workers, in a way have to live with the basic facilities provided by the tea-planters. The tea-planters usually exploit the tea-tribes every possible way. Violence and agitation of labourers against the management is common, where the state machinery normally protects the tea-planters. Non-education, poverty, addiction of males to country-beer, poor standard of living and health facility are the problems in their life. There are instances when tea-planters do not even supply the life-saving drugs when workers are dying out of epidemics.
The 'welfare officer' appointed in every tea-estate due to compulsion from Government of India, are mostly show-pieces than of any good.
Tea tribes lagging behind
Tea is a popular beverage around the world. People consume tea irrespective of ages or classes. Tea industry is the crucial part of Indian economy and among the tea producing states of India, Assam is well known internationally since long back. It is a labour intensive industry and highly dependent on a large workforce. It is the only sector where majority of the workers are female.
About two million labourers are dependent on Assam’s Tea industry and almost all of whom are the descendents of those who were brought to Assam as slaves by East India Company mostly from Jharkhand and Orissa. The descendents of those slaves are now called tea tribes. The sacrifice, toil and hard work of these labourers gave shape to the tea industry of Assam. However, the story behind the tea cultivation, plucking and processing of tea leaves in the plantations is one of exploitation and untold hardships for the tea labourers. These labourers are still living with the basic facilities provided by the Tea Planters or Companies. Poor standard of living and lack of education, health facilities etc. are main problems of tea labourers. This paper will highlight how tea tribes or tea labourers are far away from the fruits of urbanization and living their lives in vulnerable conditions. Here attempt is made to measure urbanization among labourers based on their standard of living. Though urbanization has a vast dimension, the study attempts to limit it within health status, education, family planning, women empowerment etc.
The study uses both primary and secondary data. Primary data are collected from the field with the help of questionnaire. Books, journals and websites are source of secondary data. The study has focused on the life of tea garden workers. Their standard of living is traced with some selected parameters. Observing field data and secondary data the study reveals that tea garden workers are still in very deprive condition. They are far away from the urbanized society and living an isolated life.