A commendable move | Daily News

A commendable move

To say that the estate community in this country is a vastly neglected lot would, indeed, be the understatement of the century. They not only break their backs day in and day out to earn for the country, which until recently, was its largest foreign exchange source but also are exploited in many other ways. These hapless souls whose forebears were brought to the country by the British, as indentured labour, from South India are, for the most part, still living in line rooms in the most primitive conditions imaginable. In the past a single estate worker family, usually numbering around a dozen, or, more, were cramped into a single line room. This situation has improved only marginally today.

They are also plagued by malnutrition and the infant mortality rate is high. Estate children have hardly seen the inside of a school and what schools that exist don’t have teachers. This community have been ignored and left to whither in the vines by all governments since independence.

It is in this context that the new measures that are being taken by the government to lift the living standards of the estate community and bring them on par with the rest of the society deserve commendation. According to a news report we carried in our front page yesterday, the government is to set up a new Authority in the plantations to develop new villages in the estates that would replace the line rooms which this community was condemned to by the British and continued to be condemned thereafter.

The Bill to set up an Authority known as the New Villages Development Authority for the Plantation Region is to be presented to parliament soon by Hill Country, New Villages, Infrastructure and Community Development Minister P. Digambaran. The new villages that will be built under this programme will replace the existing line rooms with single houses and improved basic infrastructure facilities within those estates.

The government, with this move, aims to include the plantation community into to the social mainstream through socio-economic, cultural and infrastructure development in the plantation region, it was noted.

But integrating the estate community with the rest of the society won’t be easy. For this, the government has to pay attention to their enlightenment and emancipation from a life of virtual slavery. We say this because plantation workers have been exploited for too long by the crafty politicians in the thottam and condemned to live a life of ignorance. These politicians liked to keep the community in the dark, forever, since enlightenment brought about by education was bound to expose their true motives and opulent living at the expense of the estate worker.

While the North had been famous for producing eminent men and women in the professions we hardly hear of any outstanding academic achievement from among the estate community. This is solely due to generations of the community been chained to the single job of plucking tea. Steps therefore should be taken to rid the community of this slave mentality if they are to be successfully integrated into society. They are also largely a community taken for granted and this factor is exploited by all political parties. Nay, they have been made a commodity in the hands of political leaders of the plantations who barter their community to the highest bidder during election time. This mould should also be broken so that they would not be a plaything in the hands of estate politician, to amass wealth.

This is not to say that grand old man Thondaman had neglected his community. Far from it, he has extracted many concessions from successive governments for the plantation workers such as increase in the daily wage and the collective bargaining mechanism that brought many benefits to the community. However, they came at a big price, the price borne by the governments by way of special favours such as ownership of airline agencies and other quid pro quos.

Be that as it may, a fully integrated programme to uplift the conditions of the estate workers should be carried out in earnest. Hopefully, this is the first step in a well thought out plan to address all aspects of estate life. It is all too well known that liquor addiction in the estates is rampant, eclipsing all other areas in the country, with a high percentage of women too falling prey. The harsh life led by the estate workers coupled with the cool climate, perhaps, has led to this phenomenon. What is worst is that almost 90% of the addicts consume moonshine due to the ill-affordability of the regular liquor, leading to the rise in alcohol related diseases in the estates. This aspect too should receive the attention of the authorities. Hospitals in the estates too lack doctors and vital medicines, as regular newspaper reports indicate. It is indeed a paradox that a region with the most salubrious climes and breathtaking scenery in the country is also home to an eyesore in the form of squalid line rooms housing an uncared for, largely abandoned community. Hope things will witness a turnaround with the latest initiative of the government.


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