Starvation deaths haunt south Assam tea garden

With no one to help her and no financial security offered by the Pathini tea estate authority, the entire family decided on desperate course of action: Suicide.

But Nina was fortunate. Her marriage to a local businessman saved the family from the jaws of death. However, fortune hadn’t smile then on others in Pathini as of Nina. Some members of other laborers’ families died of starvation.

The Pathini tea estate, located along the Indo-Bangla border,14 kms from Patherkandi township in Karimganj district, has earned infamy in recent times for increasing number of starvation deaths of its laborers. At least 17 tea laborers of Pathini were reported to have died of starvation in the last four years. And that was not the end of the ‘black days’ in Pathini. At present, more than 1,800 laborers of the estate have virtually been starving since last week following an indefinite lockout announced by the garden officials.

“The cup that cheers, now brings sorrows to us here. Very irregular payment of wages which sometimes ranges from 5 to 6 months, apathetic attitude by the garden authority towards the other problems being faced by laborers, corruption among officials and frequent lockouts announced by the authority, have left us to starve almost ceaselessly,” said Rameswar Tanti, a tea laborer in Pathini.

Often called the ‘garden of death’, Pathini is the only producer of green tea in south Assam and once a foreign exchange earner, also received gold medal in eighties from the Government of India for excellence in quantity and quality of production of tea.

The border tea estate in Karimganj district, which witnessed innumerable labor unrests in the recent history of Assam tea industry, is now on the boil. Anger is prevailing among the laborers.
The production unit of the garden has not been functioning since last week following a scuffle between tea labourers and garden officials over due wages for five months of the last year. “We demanded our due wages.But the manager denied to give. So the scuffle took place. Instead of solving the problem,the manager left the garden announcing an indefinite lockout,” blasted Manilal Goala, a Cha Sramik Union leader.

After an indefinite strike in April of this year by the tea labourers of Pathini, the district administration had taken some steps to provide only wages and rations by selling tea leaves of Pathini to a nearby garden. ”Due to that step, we were somehow surviving. But the babus weren’t showing any willingness

To clear our due wages and the present lockout in the garden has left us penniless,” a tea labourer said.

The labourers of Pathini also allege that the Kolkata-based Tea Trading Corporation of India Ltd, which recently took charge of the garden from Assam Tea Trading Corporation, isn’t much concerned about those laborers who are almost dying.

However, no garden officials were available for comment.