Tea World

Lesson 27

Import of labour from Central India

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To meet the demand for labour, the tea companies were forced to import labourers from other parts of India. The Assam Company sent agents to the then Bengal (now Bangladesh).In 1851, an agency was open in Rangpur district of Bengal and 329 labours were brought to Cachar tea estates for the first time, and then another 400 in 1859 from Chotanagpur, Ghazipur and Benaras. Meanwhile, the Planter's Association was formed in 1859 for the purpose of recruitment of labourers from outside Assam.The Assam Company commissioned two steamers for the purpose.Various methods were used to collect the labours, the mains ones were (i)Thikadari System and (ii) Sardari System.

In Thikadari system, commission agents collected labours from impoverished areas with false promises of prosperity in Assam and earned a good fortune as commission.The agents deployed contractors to work for them.The contractors went to areas like Chotanagpur, Singbhum, Ranchi, Telengana etc. where famine took place and brought the poor, starved local people to work in Assam tea plantatations with false hopes and promises. In the Sardari system, first started in Cachar district in 1870, the sarders, head man of a group, were entrusted with the job of collecting the labours paying wages by the companies.These sarders too brought people on false promises.

It is not hundred percent true that the agents lured the people to come to work in tea gardens of Assam.There were some other factors why the people opted to take risk to come to Assam.You will find that in tea gardens of Assam,the labour comminty consists of two  major groups: the tribes and the castes, the ratio of which is roughly 40:60.The tribes mostly belong to the Chhotanagpur plateau and its adjacent areas of hilly tracks and thick forests.This area at present includes Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh, a part of Madhya Pradesh and a major portion of Orissa; bordering areas of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.All the tribal origins from these areas could be identified among the tea garden communities of Assam. These tribes   were dissatisfied of the land policy of the British administration; imposing taxes on their forests and hills which they had never known in their life.The British compelled them either to pay tax in cash or to leave lands.Therefore, they had no way but to leave their homelands and to go for work for their livelihood. Masses of such landless tribes at last fall into the trap of the recruiters of the plantations of Assam. 

The castes,on the other hand, originated from the agricultural groups were the inhabitants of almost all the plains of Orissa and partly from the plains of Bengal, Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra,  Andhra Pradesh and very few from the plains of Tamil Nadu.These castes, with their several linguistic segmentswere separated with small regions under a king of a small principality during the British period.The king was either a pensioner or a tributary ruler.The rulers of these areas with their traditional administration were responsible for the fate of these people till the British occupied their territories. They were the protectors of their subjects in difficulties in one hand and suppressive following the age old traditionals, believing them to be beneficial for the king to show their importance in the society. The people of these regions were thus suppressed by the kings and therefore,they  intentionally wanted to leave their regions to get rid of the age old suppression as a lower caste.Thus, they began to take risk, going with the recruiters into the tea plantations of Assam. The drought, famine etc. were secondary and artificial factors prepared by the British as one of their administrative policy.

However, disarrangement, unhygienic lodging,lack of medical facilities and food supply together with the cruelty and hardship in their garden life made them to realize their guilt. Even though they wished to leave but all in vain.By this time they had either forgotten or had kept only some fake idea about their native states. Fate made them grasp the tea plantation for the sake their livelihood.

Labour Transportation

In the initials years, the river Brahmaputra was the only means of transportation and the labours were brought from different parts of India in boats and steamers.The steamer services from Calcutta to Guwahti was introduced in1847 and the regular service to Dibrugarh in 1860 and these services helped the labour transportation.With the introduction of railways in Assam in 1882 and further extension in 1883, Dibrugarh became a railway station anf things became easy.

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