Monday, 24 October 2011
The tea garden workers in the Chittagong hill tracts area of Bangladesh
The tea garden workers are the most vulnerable population in Bangladesh. Being deprived and exploited, they live a very humiliating life. Their miserable life is depicted in the writings of many renowned novelists such as Mulk Raj Ananda (Duti pata ekti kuti) in India and Rizia Rahman (Surja sobuj rakta) in Bangladesh. Not all the labour laws and the constitutional rights could make their lives humane. They earn less than half a dollar a day (in 2008) from working in the garden. Besides cash income, fringe benefits include a shanty house, weekly ration, attendance incentive, medical care, provident fund, and pension. Together, this amounts to around Tk. 73 per day per person as calculated by the Bangladesh Tea Association (BTA), the tea owner’s association, which is again contested by the Bangladesh Cha Sramik Union (BCSU) to be much lower.
They are largely illiterate and socially excluded from the mainstream Bangalee population. They live in a poor condition - sometimes as many as 10 persons cramming into a single room measuring 8 x 12 feet along with the cattles, have poor water and sanitation facilities (50-60% of the tea garden workers use open space for defaecation), poor child nutrition (80% stunted and 73% under-weight), suffer from respiratory and gut diseases, and undergoing severe human rights violations.
A recent survey conducted in 2011 in a number of tea gardens in the Chittagong area found that their awareness on general health and healthy lifestyle was superficial, knowledge on common illnesses and their prevention poor, and treatment-seeking behavior not conducive to the maintenance of health. Facilities for sanitary disposal of excreta was poor (53% of the inhabitants used open space for defaecation), burning firewoods for cooking (and thereby the probability of indoor air pollution) was almost universal, and protein intake mainly centred around taking fish once in a while. Delivery at home was most common in all tea gardens (93%) and majority of the deliveries (82%) were attended by traditional birth attendants. Mothers did not continue exclusive breastfeeding for six months. Complimentary food given to the children was often nutritionally inadequate. The under-five children were chronically malnourished as revealed by high proportion of stunting (62%) and under-weight (45%).
Health and productivity of the tea garden workers are highly correlated. One of the reasons for low productivity among tea workers is their very poor health. The study found that fever and cough were the most frequently reported acute illnesses; chronic diseases like joint pain, diabetes, and heart diseases were quite high. For treating acute and chronic diseases, tea garden population depended on health centers operated by tea garden, but they were not satisfied with the meager services available. The workers want that the Garden health centres should provide one-stop services for childhood immunization, pregnancy and delivery care, sanitation, health and nutrition education, etc. which is their felt needs. Recommendations included implementation of a PHC-based comprehensive healthcare services from the garden health centres with functional referral linkages with secondary and tertiary level of healthcare facilities. This should be backed up by concerted IEC campaign to raise general health awareness, using culture-sensitive tools and techniques such as songs, dance and popular theatre, and spread health and nutrition messages.