( Ongoing project )

by Faiham Ebna Sharif


History of colonialism had a great account of plantation economies like cotton, indigo, rubber, sugar, tea and tobacco. After the failure of deadly attempts with indigo and sugar, the colonial economy was successful to establish tea production in Bangladesh, a former British colony. With overriding success of the Opium war, East India Company followed by other sterling companies set up tea business in former Indian Sub-continent. Mass migration of labor and social division were among the key factors to introduce an ‘enclave economy’ within the tea Estates, which still exist in the post- colonial years. British management system, credit and auction facilities in the pre and post production period, estate rules along with its own rituals, and a quasi-trade union which best serves the owners: all are still  persists in 162 tea gardens in Bangladesh which employs approximately half a million permanent, contractual and seasonal labors. Originally the tea workers from Bangladesh and their communities were brought by the colonial rulers from Bihar, Madras, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and other places in India during 1840-50s.  Ethnicity of 80 different communities and their diverse religious believes within the workforce are probably the reason the tea workers are discriminated against.  Hence the ‘aura’ of the centuries old feudal structure is still evident in the ‘estates’ as a form of master and slave relation.  With 85 taka a day (Just over USD 01) and other marginal benefits, a permanent worker in a grade one garden, has the most ‘secured’ life according to the law. Poor access to accommodation, education, healthcare and sanitation system, safety at work, gender discrimination and most of all, extremely low wages ‐ all these exploitations complement a theoretical frame work that produces the cheapest labor in the global economy. Yet, Tea is the second most consumed drink after water around the globe.