Kerala tea plantation women workers take on powerful owners

BACKteaworkerWomen tea pickers from Kerala, who work for the powerful plantation company, Kanan Devan Hills Plantation, that is part owned by Tata, had had enough, when the a decision to cut their bonus surfaced.

Sadly tea workers in India are traditionally maltreated and in Kerala part of the women’s gripe is that they live in one-bed huts without toilets and earn half the amount a daily wage labourer in Kerala gets. What’s worse, they say the male trade union leaders are in cahoots with the company management and make sure they get the plum jobs themselves.

In September the women in Kerala downed their tea baskets and 6000 women who called themselves “Pempilai Orumai” or women’s unity, occupied the main road to the Company, and veritably laid siege to Munnar the popular tourist destination, and brought trade and tourism to a halt.

When the duplicitous trade union leaders tried to join the protest they were chased away and one leader was attacked and had to be rescued by the police. The women also tore down flag poles outside the offices and saw off local politicians who wanted to show they were offering their support. The brave women insisted they would continue the protest till their demands were met.

After 9 days of protest and marathon negotiations overseen by the state chief minister, the plantation company gave in, making the gigantic effort by a group of hard working women a victory.

The battle continues however as the issue of a pay rise was to be negotiated separately, and the women have launched an independent demand for higher wages. Earlier this month some male activists attacked the women demonstrators by throwing rocks and six people suffered minor injuries, but according to one of the leaders of Pempilai Orumai they will live with the suffering but will not allow anyone to exploit them anymore.