This is no storm in a teacup. When two assistant managers of Sapoi tea estate in north Assam were dragged out of their homes on May 30, lynched by a mob of workers and then set on fire, it made headlines. But when this was followed on June 12 by the waylaying of an assistant manager of the Nandanban tea estate in upper Assam by workers, it set the alarm bells ringing in Assam’s tea industry, already reeling under a recession.
Violence is not new to the tea estates. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, tea managers were the target of militant groups which abducted executives and demanded huge ransoms. But the menace of the workforce itself assaulting their managers, virtually unheard of in the past, has now come to haunt the industry. Says Dhiraj Kakoti, secretary of the Assam Branch of Indian Tea Association (ABITA): “There have been 29 cases of severe assault on tea managers by workers in recent times, resulting in the death of three tea executives.” ABITA is the state’s apex association of big tea companies with 250 members. It is now trying to find ways of tackling the problem of workers’ unrest in Assam’s tea gardens.