Locked Down in Tea Estates

Locked Down in Tea Estates

“This lockdown is a threat to our survival. I can’t go out to work and I have no money. How can we spend on soap to wash hands, when we have no money for food. There has been no income since the lockdown,”  said Joyram Munda, a 37-year-old tea estate worker in Jorhat district.

The COVID-19 pandemic has become as unprecedented humanitarian crisis. While the disease does not discriminate but the impact the disease and the lockdown has had huge economic impact on the most marginalised and the most vulnerable communities across the world and in India. The economic crisis that unfolded in March, which saw millions of migrant workers walk back home, continues.

The tea gardens in Assam, like other sectors, too, have been badly hit. While the permanent workers still managed to resume work, the temporary workers were almost left to fend for themselves. Like Rantu Munda, a 32-year-old temporary worker who has had no work since the lockdown as he is a temporary worker. With no work in the tea gardens, and the lockdown restricting their movement, they were stuck without income and were running out of food.

“The lockdown has come as a major disaster and gave us no chance to prepare for the consequences. I am facing a lot of problems; I was not in a financial position to stock up food and other essentials. We have never faced anything like this before. For us, hunger could be more deadly than the coronavirus,” Rantu said.

Oxfam India along with its partners reached out in 14 states with dry ration kits, cooked food, safety and hygiene kits, PPE kits, and direct cash transfers. We have reached out to over 3 lakh people since the lockdown began on March 25. In Assam, Oxfam India along with its partner NEADS (North East Affected Area Development Society), have distributed ration and hygiene kits to 890 households in three tea gardens in Jorhat district.

Joyram’s family was one of the 890 households we reached. The ration kit included 25 kg rice, 5 kg flour, and 3 kg dal, a litre of cooking oil, 100 gm packet each of Haldi powder and Chilli powder, a packet of salt, half kg sugar, and a kg of soybean nuggets. This is likely to take care of the family for at least 20 days. The hygiene kit included masks, soaps, detergent soaps, and sanitary napkins.

“Thanks to NEADS and Oxfam India for their helping hands,” said Hana Kandhabel, a 26-year-old daily wager at a tea garden who lives with her husband and two children. The tea garden workers are provided with ration, but they had not received any as they were temporary workers. With whatever money they had saved up, they managed to get ration for 10 days but that too was coming to an end.

“With no work, stocking extra ration is beyond our financial capacity. We were already facing hardships and the lockdown has made it worse. The dry ration kit and hygiene kit provided by them is a good support for my family in this crucial time,” she added.

Rantu adds that, in the initial days of the lockdown, a few neighbours and local groups helped out with food that lasted for a few days. But the continuous lockdown worsened the situation. “When grocery shops opened, the prices were hiked and that was an additional problem for us. The support of ration and hygiene kit from NEADS and Oxfam India is very helpful for my family. With the dry ration kit my family will survive at least one more month.”

With inputs & photographs from Tirtha Prasad Saikia, Joint Director, NEADS 

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