‘There was little money and no food’

Adline Bhawna Minj in Jalpaiguri talks to a tea garden worker who has suffered the effects of the nationwide lockdown.


Karala Valley Tea Garden, Jalpaiguri, West Bengal

The coronavirus pandemic did not spare any section of society; it fell upon people like a curse. Although there were fewer cases in West Bengal compared to many other states, the total lockdown played a huge role in making people’s lives miserable.

The tea gardens of northern Bengal and the workers there were already in a bad shape when the virus struck. Ranjita Minj (43), who works for Karala Valley Tea Garden in Jalpaiguri, recalls how the sudden lockdown came in like a bolt from the blue upon her life. She is the sole earner supporting her family of four. When she was employed in 2010, her wage was Rs.150 a day and over the past ten years, her daily wage has only increased by Rs.23. With this meagre income, she is educating her two daughters and running her household.

Ranjita was back to work after 14 days despite a complete lockdown announced by the Mamata Banerjee government. She is thankful her daughters are at least at home during this crucial time. Asked if she received any help during the lockdown, she said: “I was not given any help, I once received Rs.500 from the company as salary advance but after that I got nothing. I had the money, but no food to buy.” Shops remained closed and fresh vegetables were unavailable.

The advance is being deducted in small portions from her salary. Even as people in many other villages received free food grains, her village was not that lucky. Nor did her employer pay any attention to those who worked for him although he was apprised of their situation. When a group of workers strongly represented to the local MLA, they were given 5 kg. of rice each.

Many tea gardens in northern Bengal have shut down. The workers who have been rendered jobless travel long distances to other tea gardens and work for meagre wages. They no longer receive a free supply of water and electricity, adding to their financial crisis.

Ranjita has no hope of even partial recovery in the near future and wonders if life will ever return to the way it was before the pandemic. She says: “People enjoy the various tea brands that I help produce, but do they ever think of these hardworking hands?”

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