Most of the laborers who work in the tea plantations of Bangladesh belong to the Sanatan religion. Although various festivals are held throughout the year according to religious customs, the color of these festivals does not affect the body of these workers.
Even though we get festival allowances on Durga Puja and Holi, most of the families get new clothes only on one festival, that too for the kids, and that too for someone else’s used clothes. Another festival allowance goes to pay off debt. The elders pass the year with a frown. The clothes these workers buy during Durga Puja cost between Tk 150 and Tk 350. If the saree is bought, its price is between Tk 300-450. Few new clothes go there from the capital Dhaka, which are not of good quality, priced between 500 taka
Durga Puja and Holi, around these two festivals, they collect donations and eat good food. Good food is vegetarian khichuri. Some used to buy chicken meat on these days. The workers say that they may not be able to buy chicken at the rate the price of broiler chicken is increasing. During the festival season, Suman Dev sells clothes in the tea-workers neighborhood of Srimangal. Talked to him while selling clothes in Sramikpara of Kalighat tea garden. Durga Puja is ahead, so this time he has come to sell clothes. However, Moushumi said that the workers are less interested in buying clothes.
Suman Dev said that he has some ‘washed’ clothes and some cheap new clothes bought from Gauchia Market in Dhaka. Most of these are children’s clothing.
He said that the workers buy more clothes from Tk 100 to Tk 350. There are a handful of workers, whose children work elsewhere outside the plantation or migrant workers, who buy some of the more expensive clothing.
Mithun Garh, a worker at a rented tea garden, said that new clothes are bought only once a year. Can’t buy that for everyone. Buy for the kids, of course, and buy for yourself if you have the money.
He said, what we call new clothes, they are actually clothes used by someone else. We no longer have the ability to go to the market and buy new clothes.
It is known that the workers of a garden have several parts. Among these, the main categories are permanent workers and temporary workers. One-third of the total labor force in each plantation consists of temporary workers. Permanent workers get a wage of tk.120. The wages of temporary workers are even lower. A bonus equal to 47 days wages is paid to permanent workers. The amount of money is 5 thousand 640 taka. This bonus money is again given in two parts. 60 percent is given during Durga Puja and 40 percent during Phagua or Holi festival. Temporary workers do not get this bonus.
The tea workers complain that the owners are taking advantage of the bonus money. Not everyone is paid the same amount even if they work every day of the year except for accrued holidays. Many people’s money is withheld for no reason. 100 days leave is available out of 365 days. Beyond this only full bonus is paid after working for 265 days. If someone works less than one day out of 265 days, then his attendance is considered to be 75%. And if he works one day less than 250 days, his attendance becomes 50%.
But the workers don’t know how much money they were actually owed or underpaid. And if the owner says that no worker has worked all day, the workers silently accept that.
Workers said that he was identified when he talked about wages or bonuses. Later, out of outrage, he was given a ‘charge sheet’ without any reason. This charge sheet is like a yellow card in a football game. It is given to warn. This conveys the message that if someone commits the same ‘crime’ again, he will be thrown out of the garden, deprived of a place to live. Durga Puja in October, workers in thought Durga Puja,
the biggest religious festival of Sanatan religions, is coming up in the first week of October. But the stubborn workers are yet to join the work demanding higher wages. As a result, they are worried about getting festival allowance on the occasion of Durga Puja this year.
Khokon Chaja, a worker at Kalighat tea garden, said that he bought all the last new clothes during Durga Puja last year. I don’t know what will happen now. Work is stopped due to agitation. Because of that, if the owner does not give bonus, no new clothes will be added to anyone’s forehead. Good food may not be eaten.
He said, the family does not survive on wages. Meanwhile the house is shaking. That’s why I took a loan of one lakh taka from two NGOs. 2700 per month in installments. Now if I don’t get the bonus money, I don’t know what will happen.