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State: WEST BENGAL
Lily Kujur is an activist from the tea gardens of West Bengal and joined us as a Community Correspondent in January 2021. Her mission is to highlight the exploitation faced by hundreds of tea plantation workers with regard to their wages, provident fund, and land rights and do stories till there's a positive impact on her community people.
Sipping a cup of hot tea in the morning is a routine habit for millions of people in India and across the world, but how many people are aware of the hardship and exploitation faced by tea garden workers?
Meet Lily, our Correspondent from the Bamandanga tea gardens of West Bengal, who is using the power of grassroots activism and community journalism to bring change and development to the lives of hundreds of people.
The Darjeeling hills, Tarai, and Dooars region today have over 273 tea gardens that employ at least 3,50,000 permanent workers since the first tea estate was set up 150 years ago. While the tea produced here is sold for various prices, some even being exorbitantly expensive, the workers are underpaid, they have no land rights, and suffer from exploitation and a lack of dignity.
"I work to ensure that my community members get their basic rights and this neglected region is developed with the help of roads and other facilities," says Lily, daughter of a tea garden worker.
Lily's home turf is stunningly beautiful, surrounded by hills, thick jungles, and aromatic tea leaves. The state government's 'Tea Tourism' packages have been luring people from across the globe to visit this place, but none of this has benefitted the plantation workers who toil the whole day for your morning cup of hot 'chai'.
She is one of VV's 15 Community Correspondents in the tea garden areas who are working on issues like land rights, minimum wages, road connectivity, education, trafficking, and gender to name some. These are issues close to her heart because as a child she had to travel 21 kms for her schooling on roads that are barely motorable.
Tea plantation workers in West Bengal have been fighting for their rights with limited success for over six decades, with the first recorded agitation dating back to 1955. Lily says she was drawn towards social work right since Class 9 because of the struggles she faced in getting her basic education. Her fiery spirit since that young age has not gone in vain because she has been creating a positive impact in her region.
"Tea garden workers face pressure from local politicians. They suffer due to corruption in the provident fund office, they have no land rights and cannot build their houses even though their ancestors have been living in the same spot for 100 years. So, there's much work to be done to give the plantation workers their rights. I am here to do that with my video storytelling," says Lily, a die-hard social activist.
The activist bolstered her community journalism skills with the technical training she received from Video Volunteers to handle the camera, learn scripting, delivering a piece to the camera, and other nuances of the trade.
But that's not the only support she received from VV after joining the team in January 2021. "I was going through a very emotional patch in my life due to a failed relationship. VV supported me with counseling and this helped strengthen my mind and get back to work," she says, indicating how she saw light at the end of the tunnel.
Armed with her new expertise to address community issues, one of her first stories was about the condition of the same 'road' she used to travel to get to school as a child. In the story for 'India Unheard', Lily talks about the pathetic condition of the 'road' and how it has troubled her community members for several years. We have no doubts that Lily will be instrumental in bringing about positive changes and development to the people and region from where millions of people get their daily fix of tea from.