SEWA Welfare Project for Tea Plantation Labours

The state of Assam is the world’s largest tea growing region, lying on either side of the Brhmaputra River, and bordering Bangladesh and Myanmar. The tropical climate contributes to Assam’s unique malty taste, a feature for which this tea is well known. Historically, Assam has been the second commercial tea production region after southern China. Nearly one million workers and their families are directly dependent on this industry for their livelihood. Most of the workers are descendants of tribal communities brought to Assam from neighbouring States by the British to work on the tea estates in the early 20th century, and they have retained their unique tribal socio-cultural identity. They live within the estates in designated settlements called ‘labour lines’.

Picking the tea leaves is backbreaking work, involving long hours, and it is done primarily by women. Children, adolescent girls and women in these communities are at risk of poor overall growth and development. Their total dependence on the tea industry makes them vulnerable to exploitation and limits their participation in mainstream development.

Although the Plantations Labour Act of 1951 requires the management of a tea garden to provide basic services for its workers and their families, its provisions apply only to permanent workers. Approximately half of the tea garden labour force is made up of seasonal or ‘casual’ workers. There are 4.5 million tea estate laborers in Assam, but only 30% are employed year-round. Temporary laborers who find work at estates for 4-6 months a per year are given benefits (provident fund and rations) only for the days they are employed. Like many other rural communities, tea communities in Assam face many challenges, particularly in relation to child protection. More than 80 million Indian children a year – 41% of the child population leave school without completing eight years of education, and 43% of girls are married before they are 18.

SEWA has been working in Assam for many years and SEWA became increasingly aware of some of the more hidden issues facing tea communities, including the social vulnerability of the community.

SEWA CHAI Project, SEWA School Education Retention Programme(SERP), Fuel Efficiency Stove(FES) in Tea Estates of Assam, Women Empowerment through literacy is amongst the initiatives undertaken by SEWA for the welfare of Tea plantation labours in Assam.