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Paper 67


Ms Alakananda Ghatak

Postgraduate Student, Department of English, Cotton University, Guwahati, Assam, India


Assam’s socio-economic retardation and the Assamese peasantry’s aversion to the

British Workforce led to a migration of labourers from the vicinal states to toil in

the commercial tea gardens of Assam. The independence only brought a shift in

hegemony as the socio-economic exploitation of the aborigines of the Brahmaputra

Valley subsisted. Assam’s tea-tribe unlike their counterparts across the nation is

deprived of the status of ‘Scheduled Tribes’ under the federal law on the basis that

they are not the original inhabitants of the land. On 24th November, 2007, Laxmi

Orang, an ‘adivasi’ woman of Assam’s tea-community was chased through the

streets of Guwahati and stripped naked in broad daylight by some male members

of the crowds thronging the state’s state capital, Dispur, for rallying in her tribe’s

protest against their social conditionand the denial of ‘tribal’ privileges. While

contemporary Assam features a multi ethnic and multi caste population, the

adivasis, owing to their ‘non-status’ are still subjected to extractive and economic

exploitations. The marginalisation of ‘indigenous subalterns’ (Byrd and

Rothberg,2011) persists on two levels: the community in general and women in

particular.Despite the ‘Plantation Labour Act, 1951’, there is a lack of proper

housing, education and sanitation among the state’s tea-workers. While the idea of

labour in tea-plantations is feminized as the nimble and tender fingers of women

are considered suitable for the delicate task of plucking leaves (Samar Singh,

1993), the reality is much darker. Even though the women constitute half the

workforce in the tea estates, they are paid lesser wage than their male counterparts.

According to the latest study conducted by Nazdeek (a legal empowerment

Organization), lack of proper nutrition and sanitation affects the health of the

women workers in the tea-estates. Anemia and maternal mortality is

disproportionally high among women in Assam’s tea estates while the tea-tribe

constitutes 69 percent of the state’s total mortality rate. The silenced voices of

Assam’s ‘indigenous subalterns’ however find a representation through the cultural

medium of literature. Arupa Patangia Kalita’s protagonist ‘Durgi Bhoomji’ (Josnar

Jhitas) symbolizes the voice of the women of the state’s tea-gardens and their

struggle with identity and recognition. Through the medium of poetry, tea-garden

poets like Sananta Tanty, Sameer Tanti and Kamal Kumar Tanti uphold the

rebellious angst of the silenced voices of the tea-community of Assam in general

and women of the tribe in particular. I argue that while the ‘adivasis’ cannot be

placed within the ‘Hindu-caste hierarchy’, there, however, exists a parallel in the

casteist exploitation of ‘dalits’ by a caste-inflicted Hindu society of the mainland

peninsula and the ‘anti-casteist caste’ exploitation of the tea-aborigines of the

Brahmaputra Valley by the mainstream Assamese community as there exists an

unresolved conflict between the original inhabitants of the area, primarily

indigenous tribes and the more recent ‘sons-of-the-soil’ settlers (Myron Weiner,

1978). I argue that this gendered life of tea-garden women renders them marginal

and is not separate from the operative postcolonial state of the “other” even as the

suppressed community struggles to find a voice and escape the stranglehold of yet

another ‘caste’ and exclusion.

Key Words: Aborigines, anti-casteism, dalit, marginalisation, post-colonialism,

subaltern, ‘other’.

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