Journalist, Filmmaker & Photographer Souleyman Messalti is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this social documentary photography. From his project ‘The Tea Workers Of Munnar‘. To see Souleyman’s body of work click on any image.
Munnar is a town in the state of Kerala, India, that is surrounded by rolling hills of tea plantations established in the 19th century. Over 13,000 people – the vast majority being women – work on those fields, most of them engaged in plucking leaves. The work is hard, extremely tedious and affects the women’s health in various ways.
Despite the hard work, tea pluckers are amongst the lowest-paid workers in Kerala.
In September 2015, around 50 women united outside the Kanan Devan Hills Plantations Company (KDHP) to protest against a bonus cut – from 20% to 10% – and ask for a wage augmentation. The number of protestors rose to 6000 in only a week. The strike was led by the workers themselves, who alternatively rejected the support and intervention of trade unions or their leaders.
Following the strike, the women managed to secure their bonus and to increase their daily wage from RS231 (£2.7) to RS315 (£3.7) for 10 hours’ labour – contingent on the production of at least 25kgs of tea leaves per day. Above the daily required 25kgs, workers get an extra RS1.50 (£0.017) for every extra kilogram plucked. For this very same kilogram, state supervisors get RS4 (£0.047) each, staff members RS6 (£0.071) whilst managers get RS10 (£0.11) – despite it being plucked by the worker.
One year later, despite the slight victory, the workers’ working conditions haven’t improved – knee damage, pesticide inhalation and uterus damage are some of the potential risks. The women are however only allowed three days of in-patient treatment per year.
By Souleyman Messalti