This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Sumantra Mukherjee. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

First Trafficked, Then Overworked: The Lives Of Adivasi Women In Assam’s Tea Estates

More from Sumantra Mukherjee

Impact: Sumantra was awarded the prestigious National Media Award for his extensive coverage on the women workers in Assam’s tea estates. You can find the rest of his reports on his profile.

Reena Sawashi from Moran says, “It hurts me when people call us labour or coolie instead of recognizing us as Santhal, Oraon, Munda, etc. as our identity.”

Imagine you are taken out of your community, trafficked to a totally new habitat and forced to live the life of a bonded labourer. This has been the story of every Adivasi living in the cocoon of their tea estate, completely detached from the socio-economic culture of their family living in the native hamlets of Odisha, Jharkhand, West Bengal, etc. The terms labour and coolie were labelled to them by the British colonials and it was a deliberate attempt by them to remove their ancestral identity and impose a new identity on them.

As I sit back in my room, reflecting on the observations from the long research on the lives of Adivasi women living in the tea estates of Assam, my heart skips a beat thinking about the murky patriarchal society that gives a very little space to the Adivasi women to live a life of dignity.

Raju Tanti, a young resident of a Margherita tea estate who works for an NGO says, “Most of the men living in the tea estates are very lazy.”

A woman does all the work. And when it comes to the quality of work, the women are far superior. But in most places they get paid less. Raju adds, “Once during a seminar held in Delhi where we participated, there were discussion on feminism; I could so relate it to the women I saw in my tea estate. Instances of men getting drunk and domestic violence at home. But the stories from the homes of tea estates never reach the forums of women empowerment held in big cities.”

During my conversation with Tapan Sutabanshi, General Secretary of Adivasi People Liberation Council, he said, “The economics of work and wage plays an important role in the live of an Adivasi. The philosophy behind the trade is to make the people work more and more and not allow them to think. There are several challenges faced by Adivasi on a day-to-day basis. But this chaosness is diluted by the nexus of folks from Assam Chahiye Mazdoor Sangh or the touts who run the liquor and gambling den so that the labourers remain silent. Thus the idea is that the more nasty place you can create, the more diplomacy you can exert.”

Don’t you want a better life? A question I asked most of the people I met. Some were surprised while the others had an answer but the answer could not come to their lips. Over the years, the rich and powerful capitalist created bonded labourers and the best way is to create a small world of them and exploit them the most. “Imagine working whole day from 7 AM to 3 PM with pains in his body and drinking liquor to relieve from it (at least that’s what they think). This created a habit that is trickling down and creating the labourer mindset from generations to generations,” Santosh Kurmi remarks.

Aren’t the Adivasis supposed to be descendants of matrilineal societies? Abhijit Ekka, a student of anthropology who hails from Tezpur says, “The moment when you remove the tag of their origin like Oraon, Santhal, etc. and label them as Labourer or Coolie, you tend to write-off their past ancestral identity and impose a new one. And this creates its own cult. Thus they were employed as labourer, made to work in harshest conditions and introduced to alcohol that makes them hyperactive. At the end of the day, the women at home have to face the wrath of the frustrated male labourers who are mercilessly exploited in the most brutal way. So, violence is a way they vent out their frustration to someone they impose their authority upon viz. wife, sister, etc.”

Thus, in a small world manifested by illusion, treachery, and exploitation, there is very little space for an Adivasi women to strive for a life of dignity.

(Sumantra Mukherjee is a National Media Fellow, and this article is a part of his work which is supported by National Foundation for India.)

Featured image source: Indranil Bhoumik/Mint via Getty Images.
You must be to comment.

More from Sumantra Mukherjee

Similar Posts

By Drishti Agrawal

By Azaz Ahmad

By Tuba Afreen

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below