Yogi Orang, 12, an average class V student was promoted to class VI last year from Govindapur Tea Estate LP School. He, however, did not get admitted in upper primary school as he has no bicycle to go to school located around eight km from his home at Labour Line in Govindapur Tea Estate.
Govindapur Tea Estate located at Govindpur is around 30 km from Golaghat town. Yogi’s father Doshai Orang, 52, died two years back after suffering from TB for around three years. Yogi, along with his mother, now plucks tea leaves at the garden.
“We get just Rs 127 a day as wages. How can I afford to buy a bicycle for him? I have to take care of three other children as well, besides running the family with this meagre income,” said Yogi’s mother Kamini Orang.
“I am a little relieved now as Yogi is also earning something working in the garden,” she said.
Along with Yogi, Kartik Orang and Laxman Orang also dropped out school after passing Class V last year.
Yogi says he wants to get admitted to upper primary school but it is not possible for him to go on foot to the school which is quite far from his home.
Children of the tea estate have to go either to Bokial High School or to Purantoli High School as there is no upper primary or high school in the vicinity of the tea estate. Purantoli High School is around six km from the Labour Line while Bokial High School is around eight km away.
Not only of Govindapur Tea Estate, a large number of tea workers’ wards of other gardens of the State as well drop out every year after completing primary education. There are 788 registered tea gardens and over 60,000 small growers in the State, and about 17 per cent of Assam’s total population (3.12) crore live in gardens, but unfortutely many children in tea gardens are plucking tea leaves, working in the factories and other engagements, instead of going to school.
“The cases of dropout increase as students move to ME (Upper Primary) school from LP schools due to uvailability of ME schools within TE campuses. The long distance in poor mode of transportation also worsens the situation and makes it more vulnerable for girl children,” stated a report of the Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights.
Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights chairperson Runumi Gogoi said that more than 10 per cent tea gardens do not have primary schools or toilets. She said that there are 24 districts in Assam with tea plantations but only in six districts garden schools have been provincilaized.
The Plantation Labour Act, 1951 stipulates that a tea garden magement should provide and maintain at least a primary school for imparting primary education to tea garden workers’ children.
The report further pointed out that the existing LP schools in tea gardens lack proper sanitation facilities –no separate toilets for boys and girls were seen in the schools by the commission.
When this correspondent visited some tea gardens in Dibrugarh, Golaghat, Sonitpur and Baksa districts, it was observed that the toilets in a number of garden schools are not in useable condition. In many schools students are made to attend classes in very unhygienic and congested rooms. In many gardens, school buildings are not properly maintained. They can at best be for two classes when an LP school has five classes.
Most of the schools do not have furniture as well. Many garden schools lack the required number of teachers that can be proportiol to the number of students.
Further, the teachers are also engaged in garden works, apart from their teaching job. Schools remain closed in the peak plucking season the teachers have to be in gardens or factories.
Besides, the teachers in most of the schools are untrained, who fail to create environment conducive for education. This does not necessarily mean that no teacher is committed to the children. However, these children need special care. The teachers cannot respond to this challenge since they are not trained for the job.
Scholars Walter Ferndez, Sanjay Borbora and Gita Bharali in a booklet titled “Children of the Plantation Labourers…” pointed out that the poor infrastructure and lack of conducive atmospheres in schools cannot motivate the parents to enroll their children, nor can it motivate the students to continue their studies.
When this correspondent talked to workers of tea estates, one of the main reasons they showed for not sending their children to school is poverty, besides poor infrastructure in schools, distance of schools, communication problems.
Poor infrastructure adds to the workers lack of hope and low self image. They begin to view themselves as persons or communities of no value, who don’t deserve anything better than that. The isolation of the workers from the mainstream society also helps in the development of such a psyche.
Under such circumstances, infrastructure of the garden schools must be developed on a priority basis, and trained teachers should be appointed in schools. Setting up of upper primary and high schools in tea estates’ vicinity is also necessary, and until a new school is set up at least school bus facilities should be provided to the children. Besides, all tea garden schools should be provincialized.
The workers will have to be helped to boost their self-confidence, not merely as an individual but also as a community. They have to be helped in their mingling with the mainstream society around them while retaining their specific culture and diversity intact.
As Ferndez, Borbora and Bharali pointed out in the booklet, such integration should not only be cultural, but economic as well.
(This article is based on a study done by the writer on Education of Plantation Workers’ Children as part of tiol Foundation for India (NFI), New Delhi’s Media Award Programme, 2016.)