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Mon, 28 May 2018

Northeast Today

Tea Garden Children’s Dream of Education

Tea Garden Children’s Dream of Education
June 16
16:49 2017

May Edition, Special Report, Mahesh Deka

Tea industry is a major plantation industry in India which contributes substantial revenue to the country. Assam is the highest producer of tea and should be called the hub of the tea industry. But even after 70 years of the Independence, the condition of the tea garden laborers did not improve much and many of them were made to live in abject economic condition. Education which is a major way of upward social mobility was seen lacking among the tea garden laborer community in the state. Northeast Today reports

A jinxed story

When Pooja Kumari’s mother was taken ill and bed ridden for around one and a half month, she could not go to school as apart from taking care of her ailing mother, the entire responsibility of maintaining the household chores fell on her young shoulders. Right from cooking to cleaning the house, young Pooja had to do it all on her own. Her father works at the Hazel Bank Tea Estate, located at Dikom in Assam’s Dibrugarh district. Her two siblings, who are also school dropouts, work as drivers. Dikom is 461 kilometers from Assam capital Guwahati. Pooja’s mother was also a casual worker, commonly called as ‘faltu laborer’, in the Tea Estate and used to pluck the tea leaves. But because of her bad health, she could not continue with the job of plucking leaves.

Pooja, the youngest daughter of the couple, was a student of Class IX at Dikom High School, which is around three kilometers from her labor-line home in Hazelbank Tea Estate, owned by Assam Tea Company. With no sign of immediate recovery of her mother, 15-year-old-Pooja decided to leave school.

“I had to take care of my mother, as my father and brothers go out to work in the morning and return only in the evening. I had to do everything at home. So it was not possible for me to go to school under such circumstances,” she said.

When she made her parents know of her decision, they accepted it without any second thought. Pooja’s mother, who suffered from meningitis, is now almost recovered. She can do household work now. But Pooja no longer wants to go to school now as her classmates have either been promoted to Class X or have left school.

Tea Family

“Most of my friends have passed their Class IX examination and some have even left schools due to certain family problems or because they could not clear the exam. Now if I go to school I will have to study in Class IX once again with junior students. I am not at ease to go to school with them,” she said.

Her parents too did not insist her for rejoining school. Instead, they are planning her marriage by next year.

“What will she do after going to school? She will also have to pluck tea leaves like us. Moreover, we are not rich enough to bear the expenditure of her higher studies,” says Pooja’s mother Renu Kumari.

Different faces, similar stories

It is not that this is the lone story of Pooja or she is a special case, but her elder sister Rita is also a school dropout and she dropped out of school while she was in Class VII and got married three years back. She is now a mother of a two-year-old child.

Tea gardens are full of Poojas and Ritas and if one closely studies the life and times in a tea garden, one can find several school dropouts. Sibani Munda, Arati Gaur and Sushila Gowala, dropped out from school in 2014 while they were in Class V. They now pluck tea leaves as casual workers at Ganeshbari Tea Estate, located at Lahoal in Dibrugarh district.

When asked about the reasons of their dropping out from schools, their teachers said that they left school on their parents’ insistence.

“Their parents didn’t want them to continue their studies because of their poor financial condition. Parents want them to work in the tea garden and earn money,” said Bonil Kondha, an assistant teacher of Ganeshbari TE LP School.

“The parents think that since in the near future their children will have to pluck tea leaves only, hence so much education is irrelevant and of no use,” Kondha adds on.

Such tales of haplessness of the children of tea plantation workers are far from being exhaustive. Most of plantation workers are not interested in sending their children to school because of their total dependence on the tea estate and lack of hope in future. They can’t think beyond the environment of the tea plantation system and take it for granted as their destiny. They do not need to study in order to work in the tea gardens, which they think, are their only future.

Problems galore

Lack of upper primary and high schools in the tea estates has also led many plantation workers’ children to dropout after primary education. Most children stop schooling after Class V because there is no access to upper primary and high school within tea estate campus.

Even though the Plantation Labor Act (PLA) demands that the school be less than 1.5 km from the line, there is no management- run upper primary and high school in Tea Estates campus. Children have to go a long way to read in upper primary and high school, but the mode of transportation is very poor.

They either have to go on foot or by bicycle through secluded garden roads, which make the children, especially the girl children, vulnerable. Most parents do not want to send their children to upper primary school which is too far from their labor line.

For example, the children of Narayanpur Tea Estate, located at Dhekijajuli area in Sonitpur district, after completing primary education, have to go to Uriantoli High School, located at Uriantoli in Dhekiajuli area which is around 15 kilometers from their labor line. Very few parents encouraged their children to go to school located in such a distance place.

“We can’t afford to buy bicycle for them. How will they go to school on foot all alone such a long way?” said Nakul Kurmi, a plantation worker of Narayanpur Tea Estate.


There is also a certain male bias in the plantation labor community, especially in respect of the education of the children. The male bias is visible in the number of children at school and in the dropout rate as well.

There are a total of 254 students in Tinkharia Tea Estate LP School in Dhekiajuli of which only 82 are girls. Similarly out of 118 students in Nagrijuli TE LP School in Baksa district, 50 are girls. Girls by and large remain at home to look after their younger siblings. In 2014 four children were dropped out in Ganeshbari TE LP School, of which three were girls.

Two daughters of 45-yearold Ajoy Kandula, a plantation worker of Narayanpur Tea Estate, stopped going to school five years back but his elder son Vishal is still continuing his studies.

While 15-year-old Vishal read in Class X at Urinatoli High School in Dhekiajuli, her two younger sisters work as domestic help at the house of the manager of the Tea Estate. Such gender discrimination against girl children is common among tea plantation workers which is one of reasons behind the poor education scenario of plantation worker community.

A refreshing change

Breaking the jinxed lifestyle, a few workers have found some alternative outside the plantation system. Condition of workers living at the bastis (villages) close to tea estates, who apart from working in the tea estate are also involved in cultivation and other works, is relatively better than the workers staying at labor lines of tea estates. To a certain extent they have assimilated with the mainstream society, which has motivated them to send their children back to school. For instance, tea plantation workers’ youths, who stay in bastis have even taken steps to set up LP schools for children of plantation workers close to Hazelbank Tea Estate at Lahoal in Dibrugarh district.


According to a survey conducted by Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (ASCPCR), out of the 24 tea-producing districts in Assam, only 6 have schools that are provincialized by the state government.

The ASCPCR survey has further found that majority of children in the tea gardens are often engaged in plucking leaves. They are made to work in factories and do not go to schools.

“Besides, Jorhat, Sivasagar, Dibrugarh, Hilakandi, Cachar and Karimganj, the remaining 18 districts are yet to be covered under the government scheme of incentives. The Plantation Labor Act, 1951, provides education facilities to children between 6-12 years. But, the garden authorities are violating the RTE norms and employing children in gardens illegally,” states report.

The report further revealed that the children are made to travel long distances (8 to 10 kilometers) for attending middle schools after primary education.

As per the experts, this is one of the causes for the high school drop-out rate in tea garden areas. The cases of child trafficking and child marriage are also on the rise in tea garden areas.

Role of Assam government

Assam government has recently announced new timings for schools in tea garden areas of the state. This decision has been taken by government enable more children to gain formal education and reduce dropout rates in the tea garden areas of the state.

Following the order which was issued by Education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, classes for all lower primary and upper primary schools in tea garden areas now starts from 7.30am and ends at 12.15pm while for upper primary is it up to 2pm.

Earlier the school timings were from 9am to 2.45pm for lower primary and 9am to 2.30 pm for upper primary schools.

Steps Taken by SEBA

With the aim to curtail dropout rate in Assam, the Secondary Education Board of Assam (SEBA) has launched special open schools. The idea behind opening the school is to help students who had been unsuccessful in clearing the high school final examination in the past.

Under the initiative – christened ‘State Institute of Open Schooling’ – SEBA has oplearning centers in 17 district headquarters.

According to a SEBA official, “Students who had been unsuccessful in the past five years or those who had to drop out of school for various reasons can join these centers. Classes will be held on Sundays. We will also provide text books and self-learning materials. The students will have to appear for the final examination in five compulsory subjects and one optional.”

Examinations will be held in April-May. In case anyone cannot clear any subject, he or she will be given another chance at an examination to be held in October.

The official further added that the idea is to make the hurdle easier and broaden access to learning.

“There would be separate curriculum and prospectus for the course,” he said.

(The author is a journalist based in Guwahati and this article is a part of National Foundation for India (NFI), New Delhi’s Media Award Programme, 2016)


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