Like Drought Parched Earth The painful injuries sustained by tea pluckers

“I apply castor oil to my fingers and hold them over the fire. That is the medicine. For two days, I can pluck tea. After that, the pain comes back. So I treat my fingers again with castor oil” said tea plucker Perumal Danalechchumy, forty-nine years old.

Danalechchumy has five children; three of them go to school, and the other two work in Colombo. She was sixteen years old when she began plucking tea. Her fingers resemble the drought-parched earth – filled with cracks. The tea stains her hands, like blood.

“Plucking with these injuries is really painful. If you wear gloves, you can’t pluck. What’s to be done. I have to keep plucking, despite the pain.” Nirmala says. In some of the estates, the management discourages workers from wearing protective gloves, as it damages the tea leaves. Due to pain, some of the pluckers wear gloves in secret, despite this. Some others sew makeshift cloth coverings for their fingers.

If a plucker works for an average of thirty years, these injuries become permanent. This makes their mobility difficult later in life.

“With these injuries, I can’t even wash clothes. Still, that’s not so bad. The worst is that I can’t even eat with my hands properly – my fingers throb when I try to mix the rice.” M Gnanasothy has three school-going children.

To produce one kilogramme of tea, five thousand tea-leaves have to be plucked, according to Badulla Hindagala estate, Factory Officer Muthuarachchi.

“On average, Sri Lanka exports seven million kilogrammes of tea for a week. However nobody talks about the way this work injures the pluckers,” Muthuarachchi said. These pluckers spend three-quarters of their lives plucking tea – yet the management does not give them any medicine to treat their hands. They do not receive any compensation for these injuries.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka is celebrating 150 years of tea production. The Tea Board, the Ministry, BMICH are organizing several celebratory events. However, stories of the difficulties estate workers face have been largely absent from these events. Yet it is undeniable that these workers endure pain in order to feed themselves and put their children into good schools.

Recently, Maatram visited a tea estate to capture the injuries that many tea pluckers sustain during their work. Below are some of the photos.

Mother of three Gnanasothy, began plucking at seventeen. Now she is forty-five years old. Her oldest daughter is attending teacher training at college. When she was six, her father passed away from a heart attack. From that day, she plucked tea in order to put her children through school and support herself.
R Nirmala began plucking at twenty-six years old. She has three children. In 1995 her husband passed away.
Perumal Danalechchumy who has five children is now forty-nine years old. She was sixteen when she went to work. Her husband cannot speak. She does not go to work much. Due to poverty, her brother adopted one of the children.
A plucker for nearly twenty years, Rathnayake Mudiyansalage Seelawathi has three children. “If I didn’t endure the injuries in my hands and the pain in my legs, my son would not be in university. This is the job that I know. Can I say I can’t do this and stay at home?"
Forty-four-year-old A Vijaya has been working for twenty-eight years. She has five children, including a daughter in university.
Forty-year-old Nagajothi has three children. She began plucking at nineteen.
Soodamani began plucking at seventeen years. Now she is thirty-five years old. She has three schoolgoing children
Thirty-four year old Maga Devi is a plucker for six years now.
Vijayalechchumi has been plucking tea for thirty-two years. She is fifty-two with three children.
Fifteen year old when she began plucking, Draupaditha is now forty-four years old. She has three school-going children.

Produced by Maatram

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.