The Dooars is a geographically descriptive name. The word Dooars/Duar means the door, the gateway. Historically, there were a total of eighteen Dooars, eleven in Bengal, and the remaining seven in Assam. The Bengal Dooars is also popularly known as the Western Dooars. In the past, during 18th century it was under the occupation of the Bhutanese kingdom which later on in the 19th century possessed by the East India Company following the “treaty of Sinchula” in the year 1865 after the “Anglo-Bhutan war”1. Dooars is a tea belt region of West Bengal resulted after the tea plantation process of 1874. The tea garden labour force of entire Dooars is comprised of Nepalis and Adivasis. They have been serving tea gardens generations to generations.
Although a change in the wider social system bring about change in the tea plantation system as a whole being a part of the wider social system and change in the plantation system would impact the labour relations, there has no effective change in entire tea plantation region of the country in general and Dooars tea plantation in particular since colonial regime. It is to be mentioned that the tea plantation system is characterized by its peculiar industrial relations. The rigid hierarchy system is one of the legacies of the colonial planters which is still prevailing in Dooars tea gardens. The management, staff, sub-staff, and coolies/labour/worker are major stratifications of tea plantation in which there are several other substrata. The workers (in the actual sense of capitalism) comprise the lower rung of the hierarchy therefore they have to respect people from the rest of the hierarchy. One can sense the rigidness of such hierarchy still in tea gardens of Dooars out of the separate housing lines. Empirically, for the manager and assistant manager, the workers are the illiterate coolies, for the staff they are watchmen (male)/ servant (female) of their households, and for sub-staffs they are subjects for exploitation cutting half wage by deceiving them. Generally, the manager and assistant manager take a visit to the garden twice a day to observe the workers in a bullet bike wearing a white half-pent, sports shoe, white cap while smoking “Gold Flake King” cigarette. The worker gets half wage deducted if they are found taking rest for a while by the manager and/or assistant manager which proclaims the completion of their service for the day.
The tea industry is an organized sector of economic production. But its workers do not get uniform wages to the labourers of unorganized sectors of the country. The labourers are getting paid INR 176 per day3. The present wage is also at the cost of their several other incentives such as ration, medical and housing facilities provided by the PLA,1951 (Plantation Labour Act). The demand for minimum wage implementation is still a lingering issue. The ruthless violation of PLA, 1951 by the tea companies since its implementation never considered as injustice and punishable act. While questioning the management regarding the mismanagement of the tea plantation, the answers have come always in a similar pattern i.e. “We are following the guidelines of the government”. The management has given a simple and single reason for every problem of labourers in Dooars that is the company is facing losses because of the low production of tea and increasing the production cost. Furthermore, they have been saying that due to the out-migration of the labourers the company is facing the scarcity of labour force. While understanding the productivity of tea, most importantly it depends on the condition of the tea bush and the labour productivity. In Dooars almost all tea bushes are very old which needs re-plantation and the tea management never wants to increase their production cost for the same. Similarly, labour productivity of the Dooars plantation is considered comparatively low because of the health condition and the aged labourers. It can be boosted through encouraging incentives including health facilities which is an absence in dooars. Out-migration from the tea gardens areas and the lack of labour force is also one of the escape boats of the management because the majority of the migrants are youth (the children of tea labourers) rather than tea labourers. It is to be mentioned that the tea plantation has no requirement policy for new labourers due to which the region has created the pool of “reserve army of labour”. This creates certain questions such as is the crisis of tea plantation a real? Is this a manifestation of colonialism in post-colonial era?
- Debnath, S. 2010. The Dooars in Historical Transition. N.L. Publishers.
- Sarkar, Swatahsiddha. 2019. “Labour Migration in the Tea Plantations: Colonial and Neo-Liberal Trajectories of Plantation Labour in the Dooars Tea Belt of West Bengal.” Journal of Migration Affairs II (1): 25–43.
Birendra Bhujel M.Phil. Research Scholar in the department of Sociology, Sikkim Central University, Gangtok, India Email: [email protected]