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For How Long Will Quality Education Remain Elusive For Girls In Assam’s Tea Estates?

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This post is a part of Back To School, a global movement supported by Malala Fund to ensure that access to education for girls in India does not suffer post COVID-19. Click here to find out more.

By Anjuman Begum:

History Of Tea Plantation

With the discovery of tea growing potential during the British era, Assam was the most successful tea producer in the world, contributing nearly half of it. With 1000 tea gardens producing 570 million kilos of tea, Assam state is the largest tea producer in the country as well (53%).

Tea plantation sector soon proved the largest employment potential in the state. Labourers from Orissa, Bihar, Bengal etc. migrated permanently to the tea estates in Assam since the British era to tab the tea-growing potential and generate revenue from the state.

Whereas tea production increased the GDP, the life and livelihood of the tea garden community known as tea tribe or Adivasis remain marginalised till today despite the fact that they constitute 20% of the total population. This community was confined within the tea estates and lived barely from hand to mouth. Nearly half of the labourers of tea gardens are women, and most are engaged as daily wager as pucker of tea leaves.

Education On Tea Estates

I want to be a teacher in future and want to live outside the tea estate. Life is very boring here, and there’s nothing exciting here. I have lived here 18 years of my life, and now I want change. My education will help me in that”, says Silonti Das, a young girl living on a tea estate.

A young girl on a cycle
Silonti on her bicycle which she used to travel the long distance to her school

Right to education is a fundamental right, and the state has a duty to provide basic education. However, in a tea garden, the scenario is different. Tea estate management is responsible for education, but they end up providing only the primary level of education.

No facility for higher education is available in the majority of 765 tea estates in Assam has. Women and girl children are further victimised in their pursuit of quality education. Neglect by the state and gender discrimination in the family and society creates barriers to get an education or to choose a career.

The Current Scenario

Measures adopted by the government to contain the spread of COVID-19 have further affected the fragile education system in the tea garden. This pandemic has exposed the digital divide, vulnerability and created further challenges to the life and livelihood of the tea garden community.

The lockdown and loss of income by Siloni’s parents and elder brother have shattered her dreams. “I started working in the tea estate for the last one month at a wage of 130 rupees per day. I pluck tea leaves the whole day and then go home and if there is still energy left in my body I study for an hour. If I fall asleep, then I get up early and study for an hour. But I don’t want to leave my education”, Silonti said. In this situation, the chances of return of the school dropouts are near impossible.

Schools have been closed since March 23, 2020, and several educational institutions have been converted into temporary quarantine centres. As a consequence, the education and learning process has been disrupted and has adversely impacted the girls in vulnerable communities.

A survey by Purva Bharati Educational Trust indicated that the teaching process had been completely stopped in the three gardens taken as a sample. Many teachers don’t know how to operate smartphones.

A Gendered Imbalance

It has been a month since Silonti started working and has earned 3000 rupees. Her elder sister, a nursing student, suggested she discontinue the work since it’s affecting her study. Her brother helped her with an internet pack of 250 rupees. She watched the news and a few educational videos on YouTube. Otherwise, she has no access to the outside world.

Procuring a smartphone and access to data is also beyond the financial capacity of the families in the tea garden. Most of the students in the tea garden are also first-generation learners, and their parents have been informally educated. Subjects like mathematics, science and English are beyond the self-learning capacity of the students.

Silonti has no one to guide her with the lessons. Her sister guides her with whatever she knows but couldn’t manage to study for the subject of English due to lack of teachers. Her teachers are away, and she was busy with her work in the tea estate and couldn’t attend online classes.

This post is a part of Stories From Assam, a special series under the #BackToSchool campaign. Tell us how this lockdown has affected your education! Join the conversation by adding a post here. here.
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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.

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