Migration process is one of the basic processes of human history. People migrates for better livelihood and opportunities and that is why, migration process is an integral part of socio-economic aspect of a country. It is not that every migrant willingly shifted their bases, but some of them are forced to that. Such a story is behind the establishment and growth of tea gardens in Assam, a state situated in the north eastern part of India.
During the British rule, the Britishers, started the tea business in order to rule the global tea business. Till that time, the whole tea business was monopoly of Chinese empire. However, in last decades of 18th century, a young British officer discovered tea trees in the upper parts of Assam, a newly acquired area of then Indian British Empire. The British officer, Robert Bruce and his brother Alexander Bruce took the initiative in starting the tea gardens locally in the British ruled Assam. Initially, the British govt was reluctant to invest in such an ambitious project but the never ending effort of Alexander Bruce won the hearts of tea lovers of London. With that the journey of famous Assam tea began.
They have the sapling but for the establishment of tea gardens was not easy process. So the people related to tea in China were conspirated and the British established some of the tea gardens. That is when the history of forced migration into India began. As the skilled tea labors were nowhere to find in India, the British officers decided to transport labors from China. They got migrated some Chinese labors from China itself for starting some tea gardens in the north eastern part of British India. The Chinese people, who were bought as bonded labors, were given hopes of better lives in a place “where the tilling process gives you gold, where the soil is made of gold, you just cultivate once a year and enjoy a life as a king for the rest of the year”. These lines did magic on the poorest Chinese people who were tortured by their feudal lords. But when they set foot for the “paradise on earth”, their dreams of acquiring a better life were shattered. They realized that they were deported as bonded labors for working in newly established tea gardens. The people, who were far from the process of tea gardening, were forced to work as labors in newly established gardens. They work hard to make possible the Britishers’ dreams.
When the govt and the tea companies were unable to get Chinese labors, they thought of another scheme of getting labors for tea gardens and the largest migration in history of India began. The tribal people of middle parts of India were shown the same dreams like the Chinese labors. Thousands of people were cheated and migrated to work as coolies in tea gardens in Assam. These migrated people protested but gradually adjusted with the new circumstances. All this happened some 150 years ago. Now these people are integral part of Greater Assamese society and they are as Assamese as the other local people of the state. The history of Assam tea is very beautifully elaborated in renowned writer Dr. Rita Choudhury’s novel “Makam”.
All these matters came to my mind when today, along with my husband, went inside the Jeypore Rain forest in upper Assam. The rain forest is situated on the banks of a beautiful river Burhi Dihing. Inside the rainforest, where no modern communication is available, there are two large estates there. Namchang and Tarajan, which were established by the British tea planters, are situated on the banks of the river Burhi Dihing. Wrapped by breath taking landscapes, these two estates are among the largest tea estates in Assam. I was wondered how could someone set up such a huge tea estates in such a remote place.. There is hardly any road ways there, mobile phone tower, electricity but yet the people are happy in their lives. The tea estates are making good money, the basic amenities like hospital, post office is there but the modern modes of communication are still to be available. Still, the area is like paradise on earth with its landscape and bio diversity. The people, who were literally cheated to bring them here, made the area one of the important spot in tea industrial scenario of Assam. I salute those people for their efforts to give our state of producing best tea on the earth. Long live the tea community, long live the reign of Assam tea!!!!
P.S. This is again one of my favourite post from my expired blog.