Assam has been an influential and integral part of India’s North-East region, having substantial sociocultural linkages with the entire subcontinent. The state comprises of diversed mix tribal and non-tribal community as well.
The tea-garden workers which are referred as “Tea-tribes” by the Government of Assam are an multi-ethnic group in Assam. Having their roots from the regions of present-day Jharkhand, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh they are the descendants of tribals and backward caste people who were brought by the British colonial planters to serve as labourers in the tea-gardens of Assam during 1860-90s.
The Tea-garden community are primarily found in the districts of upper Assam and Northern Brahmaputra belt where there is high concentration of tea gardens like Kokrajhar, Udalguri, Sonitpur, Nagaon, Golaghat, Jorhat, Sivasagar, Charaideo, Dibrugarh, Tinsukia. Besides, there is a substantial culture of community in the Barak Valley region as well in the districts of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi of Assam.
They speak diverse languages that includes, Sora, Odia, Sadri, Kurmali, Santali, Kurukh, Kharia, Kui, Gondi and Mundari. In Assam, they have Sadri dialect which is influenced by some Assamese language and that serves as a lingua franca among the community.
A larger part of the population of the community follows Folk Hinduism and Sarnaism while Christianity comprises about 15% of the population. However, in the present days, Vaishnavism is also steadily gaining footholds among a section of the Hindu population of the community.
The tribe is deeply united to their religion and their culture and festivals are an important part of their existence. They celebrate many festivals during different seasons. More or less each and every major Hindu festival is celebrated by the community, with Christians celebrating Christian festivals. Some of which are: Fagua , Karam (festival), Jitia, Sohrai, Mage Parab, Baha parab, Tusu Puja, Sarhul, Nowakhai, Lakhi puja, Manasa Puja, Durga puja, Diwali, Good Friday, Easter and Christmas.
Music plays a much vital role amongst their community. Their music is usually collectively performed for a variety of occasions like weddings, festivals, the arrival of seasons, ushering-in of new life, and harvests. The community is rich in a variety of music and dances. They try to convey their perspective on social issues and define their daily lifestyles and their history through their music and dances. There’re certain musical instruments which are preferably used by them which are Dhols, Manjiras, Madars, Kartals, Tamaks, Nagaras, Nishans, and Bansuris. The prominent form of folk dance amongst the community is Jhumair which is prevalent in the states Assam, Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal. Besides, another important dance form is Karam dance that is performed during the Karam festival by boys and girls alike. Other folk dances are Chhau dance, Sambalpuri Dalkhai dance, Santal, Kurukh dance of Oraon tribe and Kharia dance of Kharia tribe which are performed during different occasions and are worth seeing.
The Tea-tribes in Assam, are the most primitive and exploited sections of populace due to decades of continuous exploitation by tea estate management and neglect on the part of the government. However, in the present days the younger generation is better-educated and are becoming professionals in various fields but again there are not many of those in the community. The literacy rate of the community is one of the lowest in Assam, particularly among girls and women. As a result, girls are extremely vulnerable to sexual exploitation and early marriages are prevalent among them.
The Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha has been instrumental in improving the lives of tea garden labourers. Reputed Tea Associations, such as Assam Branch Indian Tea Association (ABITA) and Bharatiya Cha Parishad (BCP) have been working with organizations such as UNICEF and the Government of Assam to improve the lives of the tea garden labourers. Besides there are many other organizations who are working in order to favor these people in the best way possible.
The tea industry is a crucial part of Indian economy. Assam produces 55% of India’s total production of tea. It is a labour-intensive industry and highly dependent on a large workforce. It is the only sector where the majority of the workers are female.
As the time is rolling by, we hope these populace will manage to grow more intellectually and know their real worth. With this regard, we appeal to the government to make necessary amendments for these communities to pursue a better lifestyle.
Visuals by: Kunal Kaustav Duwarah
Article by Swagata Borah, The North-Eastern Chronicle