ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Exploitation in Small Tea Gardens of Assam

The emergence of small tea growers is a relatively new phenomenon in Assam. Owners of small land plots mainly located in the eastern part of the state have taken to small tea cultivation in a big way in the last three–four decades. The nature of production of the sector is informal. The unemployed youth and farmers of other unprofitable crops, who have taken to small-scale tea cultivation, are likely to be exploited by agents and owners of tea factories who buy raw tea leaves. Primary survey data are collected from five districts of eastern and central Assam to investigate the monopsonistic exploitation of small tea growers by tea leaf buyers.

Wild indigenous tea plants were known to the tribes of Assam even before colonialism arrived in the Brahmaputra Valley. Experimental farming of tea started in the 1830s and was supported by the colonial administration. From the late 1830s, commercial tea cultivation commenced in districts of upper Assam (the eastern part of the Brahmaputra Valley). Since then, the story of tea cultivation in India has been inseparable from tea cultivation in Assam. Assam retained the top tea producer position even as British India fragmented into different countries and tea lands were lost to East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh). With the formation of Meghalaya and other hill states, the province of Assam became smaller. Nonetheless, the dominant position of Assam in Indian tea production has been retained (Biggs et al 2018).

For a long time, the production of tea was characterised by the estate factory model. Tea gardens produced raw tea leaves by employing labourers who were on the payroll of a tea company. The labourers were mostly migrant indentured labourers or their descendants. The raw tea leaves produced by estate gardens were centralised in the tea factory and were processed into “made tea.” The “made tea” was shipped to auction centres of Kolkata and Guwahati.1 In brief, this was the “estate factory model.”

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Updated On : 29th Aug, 2022
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