There’s something brewing in the hills of India, and it isn’t tea.

tea plantation 1

Lush green tea leaves, waiting to be picked, but no one picking them...

Lush green tea leaves, waiting to be picked, but no one picking them…

For the best part of four weeks, tea leaf picking ground to a halt!!  The lush hills of the Western Ghats were brimming with greenery: bright green tea leaves bursting from their buds and begging to be picked.  But there was no one on the hills to do the picking.  Fed up with low wages and paltry living conditions, women put down their baskets and took to village and town squares and to plantation entrances to sit in protest and to demand a decent hike in their monthly pay packet. And after four or five rounds of talking, negotiations had reached stalemate with neither the women nor the plantation owners willing to budge from their positions, and then there was the added interference of a government out of its depth…

This was not the first such protest and probably won’t be the last, but this time the women tea pickers refused to be represented by the ‘official trade union’ consisting mainly of men.  Women were beginning to find their own voices, not wanting be sold out by the men who most likely would have been bought by the plantation owners anyway.  In a society that treats women as inferior in every aspect, apart from the areas of cooking, cleaning, child bearing and rearing and keeping silence, this led to tension between the women’s movement and the official trade union.  And on occasions the women were pelted with stones or attacked in the dark on their way home…  It had not gone unnoticed by the men that whilst the ranks of protesting women had swollen as time went on and they formed their own ‘union’, the numbers of participants subscribing to the agitation by the ‘official’ men-led union had not seen a similar increase…  And in the meantime, the prospect of a quick end to the dispute remained elusive as the plantation owners demanded an increase of productivity of nearly 50% for a meagre return of about 25 rupees (roughly 25p).  It was clear that the demands of the women would never be met entirely and the stalemate would only be resolved with compromise on both ends… Which is what happened last week as the strike was called off after an agreement was finally reached.

But it was encouraging to see that there are  women who are prepared to take the initiative and defy the order society has imposed on them far too long.  Women are just as capable as men and their views are just as valuable; they just have to learn to believe in themselves.  And it will take time and bravery, but those happenings in the tea hills are a sure sign that the tide is turning in India and women power will eventually come, whether men like it or not!!!

Striking women in Munnar.

Striking women in Munnar.

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