Partner | Darjeeling Mary Ward Social Centre
Location | West Bengal, India
The Darjeeling tea states were first planted by the British in the 1800s and continue to operate in the same feudal manner over 150 years later. The estates operate as economic production units and social institutions which control all aspects of the lives of those who reside there. The workers are poor and vulnerable, with no access to alternative accommodation or income. They are often deprived of their fundamental rights and entitlements and unaware of the statutory and legal remedies available.
The Legal Aid project is a way to address this power imbalance. It provides vulnerable tea plantation workers access to a network of legal advisors known as ‘barefoot lawyers’. While not formally qualified in law, barefoot lawyers have received training to guide and support community members in legal matters, including worker exploitation, family violence, and human trafficking. When issues cannot be resolved with the assistance of a barefoot lawyer, a qualified lawyer will be engaged.
The project also provides a safety net for those who fall victim to abuse, utilising the DMWSC’s strong support network from government and non-government shelters, the police, and the broader community.
Tea plantation workers are one of India’s most vulnerable communities, and many argue that their living conditions are far worse now than during the colonial period over 100 years ago.
Labourers in the tea estates live in shack-like houses, known as kuchhas, with no electricity, sanitation or running water. Below minimum wages make it impossible for families to move in pursuit of better economic opportunities.
Medical facilities are very poor, and there are high rates of health issues from being exposed to the chemicals used on the plantations. Every year hundreds of tea plantation workers are affected by water-borne diseases, with many suffering from tuberculosis and malaria.
With no other options, many people, particularly women and children, are easily preyed upon by human traffickers, promising them a better life elsewhere.
The Legal Aid project will create awareness amongst tea plantation workers of the common legal issues their communities face in Darjeeling, India.
Through this project, the tea plantation community will become better equipped to combat worker exploitation, human trafficking, domestic violence, child labour, and sexual assault, all common within tea plantation communities. It will also ensure that victims of crime understand the process of seeking justice, knowing they will be provided with support services, including access to legal assistance, restorative services, and emergency shelter, if required.
• Train legal advisors, known as ‘barefoot lawyers’, in issues commonly faced by tea plantation workers. This includes human trafficking, child labour, domestic violence, worker exploitation and land ownership.
• Develop and implement legal rights awareness programs for schools and the community.
• Rescue and support victims/survivors of human trafficking and other forms of abuse.
• Meet and network with key stakeholders, including the police, judiciary representatives, and other state and non-state organisations.