People @ small planet

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Do you drink Tetley Tea? Last year these women tea pickers from the beautiful southern Indian state of Kerala protested against low wages and harsh living conditions. Earning on average 230 rupees or $3.00 per day, the women live in one-bed huts without toilets or other basic amenities for their families. “Hunger and suffering are part of our lives,” one woman said. “We don’t care even if we starve to death. But we won’t allow anyone to exploit us. Enough is enough.”

The “Pempilai Orumai” or “Women’s Unity” occupied the main road to the headquarters of the plantation which also brought trade and tourism to one of Kerala’s most popular tourist destinations to a standstill. Carrying placards reading “We pick the tea and carry the bags on our shoulders, you carry off the money bags,” the women insisted they would continue the protest until their demands were met.

The women shunned the union, which they said favoured men and was in cahoots with the company owner, and launched their own independent demand for higher wages. After nine days of protest and marathon negotiations overseen by the chief minister of the state, the plantation company gave in. It was a stunning victory; a group of semi-literate women had taken on the most powerful interests in the state and won. Pic Cred: AFP.

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