The Chotanagpur tribal diaspora and their unresolved predicament

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The tribal diaspora of tea plantation labourers were segregated from their homeland and brought to non-native land as daily wage-earners. The prolonged experience of oppression, discrimination, marginalization and alienation by this tribal migrant community often go unacknowledged.

In the tea plantations of Assam, in the regions of Jalpaiguri district and Darjeeling district, is the diaspora of Chotanagpur tribal communities who work as labourers. Their ancestral history of being the tea plantation labourers is traced long back to the times of the British, when the tea industry of India had just started flourishing with the growing tea gardens in Assam. They needed workers from whom they could get most of the work done at minimum wages. The naïve, hardworking tribals from the tribal belts of Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh, were perfectly befitting for labour work. Already destitute because of the draughts, famines, harsh land revenue policies as well as the atrocities of the zamindars, the tribals from the Chotanagpur region were the cheapest labourers available then. Hence began the story of generations of tribal labourers still working in the tea gardens of Assam, away from their homeland, away from their culture, away from their community. The working conditions in the British India and the post-colonial India didn’t change for the daily wage-earners of the tea garden. They don’t reminisce their homeland, their culture or their community, as the present generation of labor has seen none of it. They cope with conflicts of their identity and the desire for belongingness. Not much of their culture or language has been retained as the present generation have little or no clue about their roots.

Working 10 hours a day doesn’t provide them much for their families to feed. They rarely find employment in the town because, sadly, most-preferred workers are the bengalis or the migrant workers of hindi-speaking states. Despite their immense contribution to the local economy, their plight is largely overlooked by the government and the society. This feeling of alienation is further aggravated by the lack of support from their own communities. Due to the perpetual marginalization, the tribal labourers have no other choice than to work in the tea plantations. Working in the tea gardens is their present as well as their future— the never ending plight of this tribal diaspora.