In a world that’s constantly striving to ensure gender parity in the working population in terms of rights, wages, and access to facilities, it is not often that we come across an industry that has been way ahead of its time in terms of women employment. An industry that has always been there to put a pause to the cacophony of the city, the humdrum of the workplace and all our worries for a while, the tea industry has been responsible for creating an oasis of tranquility in a cup amidst the surrounding pandemonium of our daily lives.
A walk through the green fields
Ever since the introduction of commercial tea cultivation in India by the East India Company in 1836, the existence of the industry has hinged on the presence of women. With an annual production of around 1.2 billion kg, the tea industry is the second largest employer in the nation with established standard wage rates and equal pay for equal work. One of the millions of women engaged in tea farming, Lakshmi, is a tea picker in the Tinkharia estate of Goodwyn Tea.
The first image that pops into our mind when we think about tea-pickers is that of women like Lakshmi with large cane baskets on their back, plucking tea leaves from the lush tea gardens. Lakshmi is not just another person working in the tea estate, she is representative of all the effort and the emotion that goes into producing each cup of tea that reaches us and brightens our day.
A leaf out of the tea plucker’s diary
On a regular working day, Lakshmi wakes up at the crack of dawn and makes food for her family. After setting aside their meals, she heads out for the tea garden, making her way along the dusty road in the foggy morning chill. With a basket on her back, Lakshmi expertly plucks the requisite ‘two leaves and a bud’ from the plants ready for harvest. Catching up with her colleagues over tales of their lives while traversing the garden, she and her friends occasionally hum earthy folk tunes to keep fatigue at bay. After finishing with her work for the day, she lines up to collect her day’s share of wages and heads back, with the setting sun lighting her way home with its dying rays. Despite being caught up in the tiring and hectic work schedule, she regularly attends a night school once a week and is currently studying to sit for the State Secondary Examinations. A doting wife, a caring mother, a sincere working woman, and a dedicated student- Lakshmi executes all her roles with equal passion and zeal. An empowered woman, she is powerful beyond measure and beautiful beyond description.
One day, on her way to the market, Lakshmi saw an aged couple sitting on their lawn, sipping tea with a warm, fuzzy smile plastered on their faces. The scene of blissful contentment made her feel like her work had finally found validation. Ever since that day, Lakshmi realised that behind all her hard work is the underlying purpose to make sure that the faces of tea drinkers are lit up with a smile every time they hold up their favourite cuppa.
In and out of our cups
Through her tireless work of gathering the best leaves in order for us to receive tea of the finest quality, Lakshmi stands as a symbol of all those women who are engaged in the estates of Goodwyn. Lakshmi knows that tea leaves are not to be hastily ripped but are to be tenderly picked from the shrubs with the gentleness of the mellow winter sunlight falling on your face, so as to not damage the plant or deteriorate the quality of the harvest. It is only when women like Lakshmi put such affection into their task, that the final yield brings a spontaneous smile to our face. It is almost as though we can feel Lakshmi’s passion seeping through the cup into our souls and warming it up from within, lifting our spirits instantly.
All of us thoroughly enjoy our tea-time. But do we ever spare a thought as to where this tea comes from? Or how is it that this tea reaches us? Behind all those lazy afternoon times curled up with a book and a mug of tea, all those gloomy rainy mornings that are brightened up with glasses of tea, all the fatigue of the evening driven away by a strong cup of tea, all those smiles that instantly appear when the aroma of your favourite tea hits you, is the tireless dedication of Lakshmi and all the women she represents.
Take a bow, and rise to action
Unknown to most of us, Lakshmi and a million others have become entwined with our lives just as much as our routine cup of the golden-brown brew. Tea is an integral part of our day and hence, it’s time that we recognise and acknowledge the efforts of women like Lakshmi and the impact they have on our daily lives and truly appreciate their role in effectively representing the empowered women of today. This Women’s Day, let us take a pledge to understand that behind all the warm and fuzzy emotions brewed by tea lies the undying passion and unwavering love and dedication of Lakshmi-an empowered Indian woman. Let us, in accordance with the United Nations theme, ‘Make it Happen’.