DIBRUGARH, April 25 - The Alarm Bajne Se Pehle Jaago Re advertisement campaign of the Tata Tea has invited sharp criticism from organisations of the tea garden working communities, describing it to be insulting, incongruous and double standard on the part of the campaigning company.The video campaign asks people to act before any disaster occurs and not wait to react after unfortunate incidents. The campaign in a video format promotes pre-activism instead of reactivism. The All Adivasi Students’ Association of Assam (AASAA) has said that the Tata group must practice what they preach. “The campaign may have initiated conversation around the cherry-picked social issues, but it has completely ignored the company’s failure in upholding the Fundamental Rights of workers and their families in their own gardens. The advertisement has also undermined years of sustained protests and advocacy led by Adivasi activists of the State,” Rustom Kujur, vice president of AASAA, told newsmen here.
The AASAA leaders staged a demonstration in front of the office of the Deputy Commissioner here as part of their Statewide protest against the Tata Tea’s alleged façade for image-building campaign.
Acknowledging that the condition of the plantation workers are appalling in Assam and West Bengal, the AASAA protestors said that APPL (Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited of Tata Tea) being owner of 24 gardens, and the second-largest producer of tea in India, should show the way towards positive change. Kujur said that APPL’s actions or inaction directly affects around 1,55,000 people, including 30,000 workers and their dependents. “The Company must first jaago (wake up) to pay workers living wage and improve living conditions in the APPL enclaves,” he said.
The AASAA leader further said that plantation workers are not asleep. “We have been demanding our right to live a dignified life since the past several decades. Now, not only the workers, but in November 2016, even the World Bank’s Accountability Office (CAO), in its findings reported that low wages of the APPL gardens have contributed to workers’ acute malnutrition and exposure to disease.
In particular, it quoted a 2014 report commissioned by Tata, which found daily wages at the time to be so low that workers were unable to afford basic nutritional requirements. The report also found a clear relationship between poor living conditions on the plantations and workers’ susceptibility to disease. It referred to several studies which found a high incidence of anaemia and infectious disease among Assam tea workers, often attributed to poor sanitation, drinking water and housing facilities.
Yet, the investigation found that the company had failed ‘to respond systematically to issues regarding housing and living conditions’ or to correct serious lapses in the use of pesticides, with the result that workers have been exposed to extremely hazardous chemicals, Kujur pointed out.
Richa Munda, president of AASAA, Dibrugarh district, said: “We are calling on them (Tata Tea), to wake up. Wake up to the appalling living and working conditions of workers at APPL tea plantations. Wake up to the poor sanitation, dilapidated housing and dysfunctional schools. They must also wake up to the fact that they pay their workers a wage of Rs 137, which does not meet the legal minimum wage set by the State”.
The Tata Tea’s advertisement titled Alarm Bajne Se Pehle Jaago Re was released in February as a part of the company’s ongoing campaign with central theme of pre-activism. The advertisement is also available in youtube and is also being circulated in social media.