Understanding the Agency of the Tea Laborer

Migrant labor came to be an essential part of the tea industry’s workforce throughout the Indian subcontinent in the 19th and 20th century. However, in creating the ideal labor force, the colonial administration exerted measures of control throughout every part of the recruitment process. The result of this overwhelming power is evidenced in the ways laborers are essentially held captive, unable to assert individual freedom. Sharit Bhowmik notes that lack of agency persists in India’s modern-day tea labor situation as well. He identifies that “plantations in Dooars are isolated. Workers and their children have little access to employment other than on the plantation or in low-productive agricultural jobs within the neighborhood” (Bhowmik, 245). As such, one can see that the recruitment strategies of British colonialism still marginalized present-day laborer. While general working conditions have been improved, the fact remains that laborers are held hostage to these industries, with little opportunity to transcend the barrier which restricts them from skilled employment. Though change will not be immediate, worker’s freedoms can be improved if the South Asian tea industry makes more focused effort in enabling access to proper education for children in plantation areas, creating centers for technical training, and developing areas outside the plantation for alternate avenues of employment.

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