Violent Protests Halt Assam Harvest


Violent protests by students and political demonstrations idled 48,000 garden workers at 870 gardens in Assam last week, costing growers an estimated $6.8 million a day in losses. Protests by Assam Tea Tribes' Students Association turned violent as police attempted to open NH 37 near Rangajan. Rock throwing protesters stopped night buses and damaged 10 vehicles before the highway reopened. Police arrested 57 protesters in several incidents. The students are angry over an Apr. 3 attack of their president Prahlad Gowala.

The bandh, a combination work stoppage and political protest, is in response to an attack of Gowala alleged to have been orchestated by Youth Congress workers in Geleki in the Sivasagar district. Student members of ATTASA have called for a police investigation. Police say they are looking into the assault and have arrested a suspect. In addition to the confrontation on NH 37, an important national highway, ATTASA activists damaged vehicles in Golaghat and Mariani where 18 were arrested as well as 12 students who were protesting in Teok.

Police arrested 57 students ATTASA Assistant Secretary Dhiraj Gowala told the Times of India.

A spokesman for Asom Chah Mazdoor Sangha, representing growers, called the 12-hour bandh unnecessary.  Tea workers receive no pay and the frequent disruptions have cost gowers millions, according to the group.  

“It is totally a needless bandh. The workers will lose their pay as the employers follow the ‘no work, no pay’ system,” Dileswar Tanti, the general secretary of the Asom Chah Mazdoor Sangha, told the Telegraph of Indiain Calcutta.

Bandhs have been frequent in the past few weeks. The 70 gardens in the Sonari in Sivasagar district —which grows 20 percent of Assam's tea — observed a bandh paralysing work in the estates on Mar. 27. Estates in Upper Assam were also closed on April 4, the day of polling.

The newspaper reports India's Assam region recorded a drop of about 16 million kg in 2010 at 429 million kg compared to 445 million kg in 2009.

"Tea estates in the states generally remain open during the frequent bandhs called by various organisations in Assam mainly because of the remote locations of the gardens. However, a bandh called by the ATTSA has a good impact on garden activities with labourers keeping away from work," according to the newspaper.

Sources: Times of India, Telegraph of Indiain Calcutta.