Tea-labour Hinduisation

The Adivasis of Assam's tea-labour communities are among the oldest of the state's migrants. They were recruited by British tea planters from present-day Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal between 1861 and the early 20th century. Belonging to numerous Adivasi groups – including the Santhal, Munda, Oraon, Kharia, Gond, Khond, Kisang and Nagesia – they settled down in Assam after their contracts ended. These groups now form a significant percent of the state's population.

However, despite their long history in the state, the ex-tea-labour communities remain 'outsiders' in Assam – lacking the Scheduled Tribe status accorded to the same groups in their original homelands, and deprived of benefits available to other 'backward castes'. Local resentment also has a long history. Although Adivasi tea labourers were brought to the Assamese plantations under slave-like conditions, at a time when the British were forcibly taking over lands belonging to the indigenous Ahom, Boro, Mishing and Koch communities for plantations, locals who had lost their land viewed them as encroachers. Throughout the Northeast but particularly in Assam, there followed a fierce competition for scarce resources, particularly land and forests, with the tea-labour communities pitted against the locals, causing the low-burn conflict that continues to date.

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Himal Southasian