Social exclusion & poverty among tea garden workers in Bangladesh.

AuthorAmin, Al-
PositionStatistical data

Background of the Study

Bangladesh has a significant history of tea production which started since the establishment of first tea garden in 1854. Tea sector plays a significant role in the national economy through employment generation, export earnings, import substitution and poverty reduction in rural areas. There are 162 tea gardens in Bangladesh which produce approximately 60 million kilograms of tea annually from about 53,259 hectares of land. Nearly 358,550 workers are employed in the tea industry of which almost 75% are women (Saha, 2010,cited in Chowdhury et al., 2011). The supply of labor force to tea industry was historically based on migrant labor who mainly came from different states of India, particularly from Assam during the British regime. Different ethnic sub-cultures kept them to be alienated from mainstream communities. As a result, tea communities are excluded from the mainstream society in many respects, such as employment, education, healthcare facilities, socio-cultural activities, political involvement and other civic services. Therefore, a study based on empirical evidences can provide significant insights into understanding the process of marginalization and contributing factors of poverty of tea garden workers. This paper makes an effort to look in to the different aspects of social exclusion and its influence on the life patterns of tea workers in Bangladesh. Drawing on views from the theoretical underpinnings of social exclusion, the paper endeavors to identify the forms and levels of social exclusion in the context of tea garden workers in Bangladesh and end ups with some policy recommendations.

Review of Literature

Academic discussion on the relationship between social exclusion and poverty is not new. Many scholars (e.g.; Golding, 1986; Sen, 2000; Hills, Grand & Piachaud, 2002; Room, 2005; Levitas, 2005; Alcock, 2012; Redmond, 2014) have explored the different dimensions of poverty and social exclusion in global context. However, none has focused on social exclusion and poverty in Bangladesh. Very few studies have been conducted covering the socio-economic situation, healthcare and labor rights issues that have been discussed here.

Das and Islam (2006) reveal that workers are deprived of getting proper education, healthcare and other basic rights. According to them, about 58 percent of the tea workers are illiterate whereas 60 percent could not go to school because of poverty. Children of the tea workers are deprived of having minimum basic social support and thus their life choices have been restricted and capacity has been shrunk. A large number of tea workers have direct experiences of being exploited by the management including low payment. However, this study has not directly focused on poverty. Chowdhury et al. (2011) study explores that tea workers are struggling with poor income, illiteracy, poor latrine facilities and iron contained water for drinking. This study also identifies the deplorable condition of water supply and sanitation of tea garden workers.

Ahmed et al. (2006) study focuses on the sanitation and hygiene of tea garden workers in Bangladesh. They find that most of the inhabitants of tea garden have poor income and majority of the workers are illiterate. They do not have access to medical treatment due to serious financial constraints and cannot maintain proper sanitation and hygiene. The study does not address the issue of exclusion though it partially painted the picture of poverty in a circuitous manner. Ahmed et al. (2009) confirms the deplorable conditions of sanitary system due to poor socioeconomic conditions and illiteracy of the tea communities. It is also claimed that tea garden workers have lack of knowledge about health and hygiene. Poverty and superstition are responsible for deteriorated condition of the sanitary system. However, this study has failed to explore how workers' access to health and sanitation are influenced by social exclusion and poverty.

Another study by Alam and Sarker (2009) reveals that majority of the tea workers including the temporary workers do not receive their payment duly in spite of doing hard work. Exploitation and deprivation by the owners are well acknowledged by the workers but still it is unchallenged due to lack of work options beyond the gardens (Pervin et al., 2011). A more comprehensive study was conducted by ILO which mainly concentrates on the working conditions and labor benefits (e.g.; wage, sanitation facilities, maternity protection and childcare, working environment, occupational safety and health), and fundamental rights of tea workers (e.g.; freedom of association, freedom from forced or compulsory labor, child labor and discrimination in respect of employment and occupation) and finds that most of the rights of the workers are denied (Ahmmed & Hossain, 2015).

The above mentioned studies have hardly touched the issue of poverty and social exclusion of tea garden workers. The tea workers are marginalized and excluded from mainstream communities over the years but very little attention has been paid by the government, non-government organizations and tea garden authority in order to promote their life and help them getting out of poverty and fight social exclusion. Therefore, this study has made an attempt to explore the situation of poverty and social exclusion among the tea garden workers.

Social Exclusion: An Overview

The concept of social exclusion is relatively recent origin but it has gained momentum in academic arena, especially in the field of development and policy practice (Scharf, et al., 2000; Sen, 2000). Social exclusion is a multidimensional process through which people face lack or denial of resources, rights, goods and services and mostly inability to participate in the normal relationships and activities of the majority of people in a society (Levitas et al, 2007). It is used for describing social division which mostly refers to persistent and systematic multiple deprivations, as opposed to poverty or other experiences of disadvantage (Muddiman, 1999). Social exclusion occurs when different factors work together to trap individuals and cause a spiral of disadvantage (Miliband, 2006).Social exclusion is a multi-dimensional processes that takes into account the participation in decision making and political processes, access to employment and material resources, and integration into common cultural processes. The combination of all these processes creates acute form of exclusion that has spatial manifestation in particular neighborhoods (Madanipour et al., 1998). Silver et al.(1995:63) has identified some issues from where people may be excluded: a livelihood; secure, permanent employment; earnings; property, credit, or land; housing; minimal or prevailing consumption levels; education, skills, and cultural capital; the welfare state; citizenship and legal equality; democratic participation; public goods; the nation or the dominant race; family and sociability; humanity, respect, fulfillment and understanding.

Besides, Estivill (2003:19) has defined exclusion as ... "an accumulation of confluent processes with successive raptures arising from the heart of the economy, politics and society which gradually distances and places persons, groups, communities and territories in a position of inferiority in relation to centers of power, resources and prevailing values." The consequence of social exclusion is well articulated by Amartya Sen who said that social exclusion leads to social, political and cultural deprivation of individuals in addition to economic deprivation which leads to poverty (Sen, 2000). According to Sen, social exclusion is closely linked with poverty. Bauman (1998; 37) argues that "poverty means being excluded from whatever passes for a normal life." Thus social exclusion is considered both a cause and a consequence of poverty (Jalal, 2000).

Drawing on the views of social exclusion, a conceptual model has been developed to address the issue of social exclusion among tea workers in...

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