Tea Industry Labor Recruitment and its Representations: Assam and Ceylon, 1830s-1920s

By Alisha Gangadharan

Oftentimes, the finality of a commodity is the only thing that is seen by the consumer. Thus, the less appealing and glamorous portions of the production process, and especially the laboring involved, are hidden from the public eye. As such, throughout history, it has been much easier for large companies and agencies to take advantage of the individuals involved in the laboring, as it is not a portion of the process which is seen by the everyday consumer. Therefore, the project of this exhibit is to understand the ways in which tea labor in South Asia has been typically represented in images, written statements, and communications; these sources reflect how recruitment strategies affected the lived experience of the laborers. Tea labor recruitment strategies throughout the late 19th and early 20th century were racialized, with an emphasis on family recruitment, for the sake of female and child labor. Ultimately, I will explore how the British colonial administration sought to restrict the everyday agency of the tea laborers in Ceylon [modern-day Sri Lanka] and Assam [Northeast India] through repressive labor recruitment strategies.

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