The shutdown of five tea gardens in West Bengal has pushed workers to the brink. They have been dying of malnutrition while some have even been selling their children to try and make ends meet.
Forty-five-year-old Ratia Kharia is one of the thousand workers who lost their jobs when the Bundapani tea estate closed. Struggling to make ends meet, he has been reduced to a bag of bones. Locals here claim 18 workers like Ratia have died due to starvation.
Ramesh Mahali, a tea garden worker, and his ailing wife have been fighting death with one morsel a day. “When I work, we eat, when I can’t find any work we don’t eat. Sometimes we borrow food from our neighbours and eat,” Ramesh said.
Seventy-year-old Buddhi hasn’t seen his son in months since he left for Ladakh for work. Today he barely has any strength left to chop wood for cooking. “I don’t have money for food, I get Rs. 15 or 20 a day. I don’t get old age benefits from the government either,” he said.
Close to 100 people have reportedly died of starvation and malnourishment in the five closed tea gardens of West Bengal. But the government continues to be in denial. “All this is bogus, there is no such thing. These things are created by the media,” said Gautam Deb, the North Bengal Development Minister.