Two major events in the tea plantation labour history are set to be commemorated at Chowrasta, the heart of Darjeeling, a region that produces the world’s finest tea.
Hamro Party has decided to set up a memorial pillar on the 1955 tea workers movement during which six people died in police firing at Margaret’s Hope Tea Estate near Kurseong.
Among the dead included a pregnant woman and a 14-year-old boy. The incident is considered a watershed moment as it was the first organised labour movement in the history of tea plantations in Bengal.
“Apart from the memorial we will also come up with a statue of Babu Ram Dewan at Chowrasta,” said D.K. Gurung, president, Hamro Hill Terai Dooars Chiyabari Sarmik Sangh (HHTDCSS).
Dewan hanged himself at Chungthung tea garden on February 25, 2006. His suicide note said that he was taking his life to put the administration’s focus on the way the management was treating the workers.
“Supreme sacrifices have been made by them and their stories should not be forgotten,” said Gurung.
In June 1955, workers from Margaret’s Hope and other surrounding gardens started a movement largely under the Communist Party of India (CPI) and Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League (ABGL).
On June 25, when the workers of Margaret’s Hope decided to march towards a nearby garden to stop police from allegedly forcing workers to join work, tension brewed at Margaret’s Hope which led to the death of six people in the police firing.
Among the dead included Jitman Tamang, Padamlal Kami, Amritmaya Kamini, Kanchha Sunuwar, the pregnant Moulisobha Raini and the 14-year-old Kaaley Subba who was said to be an onlooker atop a tree.
A day after the incident, more than 20,000 tea workers and common people marched to Darjeeling town and laid siege to government offices. Many residents were arrested including noted poet Agam Singh Giri.
However, within two days, the demands of the workers were met.
Bonus was paid to the workers for the first time. Workers’ wages were also raised.
Apart from a memorial at the firing spot, the event has not been marked much in Darjeeling.
Observers believe Hamro Party, with its proposed memorial, is probably trying to connect with tea garden workers at a time when panchayat elections are coming up.