Over 1,000 tea workers in the India state of Assam have gathered outside the home of the plantation owner as part on an on-going labour dispute. Following shots being fired from the plantation owner’s house, the workers set his house and cars alight. The plantation owner, Mridul Bhattacharya, has a history of exploiting and killing workers.
An unnamed female tea worker was quoted as saying that:
“We all came and attacked the bungalow and set it on fire. They deserved to be killed as the planter has exploited us for a long time and tortured us for petty things"
A local newspaper reported that the violence was sparked by the plantation owner and exploiter Mridul Bhattacharya ordering 10 workers to leave their homes with immediate effect, and the detention of several workers by the police on unspecified charges. The workers claim that Bhattacharya had not paid them their wages that had been due in December, and all the other issues have stemmed from workers complaining about the non-payment.
When workers refused to leave their homes (owned by the plantation) he had them arrested and imprisoned. An unnamed worker said that:
“Some workers met Bhattacharya Wednesday morning and requested him to get the arrested labourers released. He, however, did not pay any heed to the request and threatened the workers of dire consequences. This angered the labourers and they took the extreme step,”
It is reported that Bhattacharya has been engaging in similar practices at his other plantations. Two years ago, during another Labour dispute, Bhattacharya opened fire on a crowd who were protesting an attack on a female worker at the plantation.
Another local newspaper described the incident involving Bhattacharya:
“Bhattacharya, who also owned the Rani Organic Tea Estate, some eight km from here, was booked for the murder of a 15-year-old youth in 2010. He was later released on bail in the murder case.
The 2010 incident took place when a group of villagers staged a protest in front of his house after he raised objections against the use of a road inside the Rani estate by the locals and harassed a woman. Bhattacharya opened fire at the protesters, in which the boy sustained bullet injuries and died.
Bhattacharya, a mechanical engineer by training, was from Tezpur. He had worked for many tea estates in Assam before winning a contract worth several million rupees for drilling and laying of pipelines in the state in the 1980s.”
The police are widely used to derail workers attempts to organise in India, particularly in rural areas, where police corruption is rife, and if you can provide a big fat brown envelope, the local inspector will be in your pocket.
The local police and private security have now been brought in to maintain order…… but more importantly, to ensure that there is no loss in tea production.
Assam produces around 55% of India's annual tea production, which stood at 988.32 million kilograms (2,174.3 million pounds) last year, and the state is home to more than 800 tea estates.