ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Plight of Tea Garden Workers


Issn 0012-9976


Issn 0012-9976

Ever since the first issue in 1966, EPW has been India’s premier journal for comment on current affairs and research in the social sciences. It succeeded Economic Weekly (1949-1965), which was launched and shepherded by Sachin Chaudhuri, who was also the founder-editor of EPW. As editor for thirty-five years (1969-2004) Krishna Raj gave EPW the reputation it now enjoys.


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Misrepresentation of Author’s Views

his is apropos my article “Khap Panchayats: A Socio-Historical Overview (EPW, 28 January 2012). Changes have been made in the original article that defeat the central scheme of the argument. Some other errors have also crept in: (i) I had described khaps as a gotra-based tribal institution of one caste which is not a unique feature of the Jat community alone and which has remained to serve the feudal mode of production. The editor has described khaps as a multi-gotra, multi-caste institution which is not my position. (ii) On page 62, EPW has misrepresented my position by adding that present-day youth see khaps as “remnants of a feudal society” which serve “the interests of rich agrarian sections”. This is against the whole concept presented in the original article. I had shown with facts that the khap panchayat has primarily turned into a tool in the hands of the landlord class to exploit and oppress the toiling masses in rural areas. And they are still very powerful in rural Haryana despite land reform legislation and the green revolution. So feudal forces are not merely remnants as they are made out to be. The pattern of landownership has not changed significantly in rural areas and no fundamental change has come about in production relations in the agrarian society. (iii) Mahmudpur is situated in Karnal district, and not in Sultanpur district as EPW has wrongly mentioned on page 62. (iv) EPW has added two references to Punjab in page 62, which were not there in the original article. (v) In the section titled, “The Way Forward”, prefixes, “ideally” and “hopefully” have been added before “land reform” and that legally recognised rights, parliamentary and panchayati raj institutions have provided opportunities for individuals to come out of the traditional khap system. This is also not my position.

It is unfortunate that the article has been edited to present certain views that

february 11, 2012

were not originally there in the article that I had submitted to EPW.

Ajay Kumar

(EPW regrets that in the course of editing the article the above changes were made. Ed.)

Appeal for Court Protection of Soni Sori

[This is an open letter to the honourable chief justice of India and honourable judges of the Supreme Court of India.]

s citizens, we look to you, honourable judges of the highest court of law in our land, to protect the rights of those who stand powerless, marginalised by society due to their class, caste, gender or ethnic origins.

This is especially so in the case of Soni Sori, a tribal woman on whom gross sexual torture has been inflicted while in police custody in Chhattisgarh. We write to you with deep dismay at her continued vulnerability despite her repeated pleas for protection from various courts, and urge you to give serious attention to the grave violation of the rights of a tribal woman under-trial, the facts and documents regarding which are pending before the Supreme Court in the case (writ petition (CRL) No 206 of 2011).

Briefly: Soni Sori is a 35-year-old adivasi schoolteacher and warden of a government-run school for tribal children in Jabeli, Dantewada till the Chhattisgarh police forced her to flee from Dantewada in early September 2011. She is being tried as a suspected Maoist supporter in several cases.

Soni Sori was arrested in Delhi on 4 October 2011 after she had exposed significant evidence of being framed by the Chhattisgarh police in multiple cases, including the Essar bribery case, to the news magazine, Tehelka (http://tehelka. com/story_main50.asp?filename=Ne15 1011coverstory).

Fearing retaliation while in custody, Soni Sori had pleaded before the additional chief metropolitan magistrate, district court, Saket as well as the Delhi High Court that she be held in custody in Delhi and sought to face trial outside Chhattisgarh. However, on 7 October 2011, Soni Sori was

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Economic & Political Weekly


remanded to the custody of Chhattisgarh police, albeit with directions to the Chhattisgarh police to “follow due process”.

This was Soni Sori’s first attempt to seek protection. A plea she is still making, now in your court.

The Delhi High Court too, in its order of 8 October 2011, ordered the Chhattisgarh police to file by 14 October 2011 a report outlining steps taken to keep her safe.

This was Soni Sori’s second attempt to seek protection against the police via the judicial process.

On 10 October 2011, Soni Sori was to be produced before the court of the magistrate in Dantewada. However, Soni Sori, who had been in perfect health when she was remanded to the custody of Chhattisgarh police in Delhi, was in such terrible physical pain that she could not even stand up or step out of the police van and reach the court room. The police claimed “she slipped in the bathroom and had hurt her head”.

That day, Soni Sori did not appear in person before the magistrate, nor did the magistrate see her – only a court clerk came to the police van and yet, it is wrongly recorded in the order sheet that she was produced before the magistrate who remanded her to judicial custody for 14 days.

The examining doctors at the Dantewada District Hospital and the Government Medical College in Jagdalpur have recorded that “she has a history of unconsciousness”, that she is “unable to stand due to pain in lumbar region; and that she has injuries on her head and back, and that black marks were observed on her toes” – indicating she had received electric shocks.

In subsequent statements to relatives, her lawyer and a letter addressed to the Supreme Court itself, Soni Sori has described the custodial torture that she was subjected to. She has stated that she was “pulled out of her cell at the Dantewada Police Station on the night of 8/9 October 2011 and taken to S P Ankit Garg’s room”. There she was stripped and given electric shocks and that “stones and batons were inserted into her private parts”.

When she awoke the next morning, she had severe aches all over her body, especially her neck and spine, and acute

Economic & Political Weekly

february 11, 2012

pain in her lower abdomen. She has subsequently informed her lawyer (affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court) that she found several stones inserted in her vagina, many of which she managed to remove herself, but not all.

The Supreme Court observed that the injuries against her person did not appear to be as simple as the State was making them out to be, and ordered an independent medical examination in NRS Medical College Hospital in Kolkata.

The medical report, presented to the Supreme Court on 25 November 2011, states that two stones were found inserted deep inside her vagina and one in her rectum. The MRI scan also reveals annular tears on her spine. All irrefutable evidence of custodial sexual abuse and torture.

Yet, on 1 December 2011, the Supreme Court ordered that Soni Sori remain in the custody of the Chhattisgarh state for an additional period of 55 days until the next hearing. Given the prior apprehension of such violence especially in cases under the shadow of the Maoist issue, and in light of the medical examination report placed before the Court, we are distressed that no immediate action was initiated against responsible police officials, nor protection ensured for Soni Sori until the next date of hearing.

After all, it is only the Court that can insulate a victim of sexual custodial assault from her oppressors, particularly when serious charges have been made against the senior police officer. It is only the Court that could have ensured that she is not made more vulnerable after she has spoken out about this torture, despite threats to her person and family.

It is only the Court that can send out a clear signal that the rights of citizens will be protected, and that when the police abuses its powers, the judiciary will not stand by in silence. It is only the Court that can ensure that Chhattisgarh police will abide by the rule of law and if they violate the rights of citizens, they too will be held legally accountable and punished.

We hope that the Supreme Court will ensure that justice is finally done to this tribal under-trial woman and will set a precedent to provide effective

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protection to the legal and human rights enshrined in the Constitution of India, especially for those placed in such vulnerable conditions.

Uma Chakravarti, Brinda Karat, Romila Thapar, Madhu Bhaduri, Imrana Qadeer, Farah Naqvi, Vasanth Kannabiran, Lalita Ramdas, Githa Hariharan, C Sathyamala, Mira Shiva, Veena Shatrugna, Jayati Ghosh, Rohini Hensman, Sandhya Srinivasan, Veena Poonacha and 172 other individuals, and 109 organisations.

Plight of Tea Garden Workers

housands of tea garden workers in north Bengal are living in miserable conditions. After visiting a closed tea garden some years back, the present chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, who was then in opposition, promised that if the Trinamool Congress came to power, she would solve the problems of the tea gardens.

Nine starvation deaths have reportedly taken place in recent weeks at the closed Dheklapara tea garden in the Dooars and have drawn public attention to the plight of tea garden workers. The Dheklapara garden has been under a lockout since 2002. Though the lockout was lifted for a few days in 2006, the owners deserted the garden thereafter and about 1,000 workers lost their livelihoods. It is reported that 56 workers died of starvation in the same garden under the Left Front regime. The present labour minister of West Bengal, Purnendu Bose, has also denied that starvation deaths have taken place and has claimed that it is the workers’ habit of consuming liquor that is responsible for the deaths.

When the leader of the opposition, Suryakanta Mishra, recently visited Dheklapara garden it is reported that the local residents said, “The Left Front government was in power for 34 years. The age of the present government is only seven months. What is the point in blaming them?”

It is true that the tea garden workers in West Bengal did not get justice from the Left Front government. But there is no serious effort on the part of the new government in power to do something meaningful for them. Arup Kumar Sen


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