GUWAHATI, March 3: In Assam, which faced its worst liquor tragedy in which 160 people died and more than 500 were affected, many of those who survived have lost their eyesight and are dealing with major health complications. Those affected are largely from the tea garden areas of Golaghat and neighbouring Jorhat districts.
The lush green tea gardens of Assam are famous across the world for their strong, black tea. But the the workers at these gardens still live a life of isolation and neglect.
14-year old Manisha Tanti and her two elder sisters, from a tea estate in Golaghat have lost their father. They had lost their mother nearly 13 years ago.
Their father, 57-year-old Bharat Tanti, who had raised the three sisters, was among those who died after drinking toxic, country-made liquor.
“We are wondering how will be live now. There cannot be anyone like my father,” Manisha told NDTV before she broke down in tears.
Nearly 500 people were hospitalised. Among the survivors, many have lost their vision.
“In the tea gardens, we earn very little. Our everyday life is a saga of struggle. To top it all, the way the country liquor, known as chulai, destroying us. Our students and women have fought against this menace. But most people did not support. Thus, we are seeing this day today,” said Rajen Tanti.
What makes the tea garden worker so vulnerable? Assam has more than 800 tea gardens; the workers are mostly descendants of migrant tribals from central India and are known as Tea tribe in Assam.
They number 60 lakh, make up 17 per cent of Assam’s population and their votes decide the fate of at least four of Assam’s 14 Lok Sabha seats. But the isolated community has no easy access to education.
“During every elections, whether for the Lok Sabha polls or state assembly polls, the leaders try to win votes by giving them free booze. In reality, no political parties wants to improve the condition of the tea garden workers,” said Balinder Ojha, a worker at the Halmira tea estate where at least 47 people have died.
What tea garden workers get for sustenance is a pittance. Rs. 167 rupees a day.
Their demand of a minimum wage of Rs. 350 has not been met. In 2017, the government launched a scheme for financial inclusion. By January 2018, seven lakh tea garden workers did get Rs. 2500 through Direct Benefit Transfer.
“After 70 years of Independence, in tea garden, you will hardly find a someone who has high school-level education. We get basic facility from the tea garden management but there are about 800 gardens in Assam. About 80 per cent of them don’t have doctor,” said Jagadish Barai. president of the Golaghat unit of the All Assam Tea Tribe Students’ Association. (NDTV)