Bal Raksha Bharat’s CEO- Bidisha Pillai travelled to Assam and shared some reflections from the field. According to Bidisha, the work that we are doing in Dibrugarh, with small tea growers focusing on sustainable business practices, ensuring fair wages for labourers (especially women) and protecting the rights of children in the tea gardens, is incredibly important, and potentially game-changing. There are many issues there, which include the fact that basic services like schools, Anganwadi centres, and hospitals are not always available to these marginalised communities, and even if they are, then the quality of services provided leaves much to be desired.
The main issue with the small tea growers that appeared to leap out, was income poverty: because of the poor margins that they generate from the tea production, they are unable to pay minimum wages to the labourers, which leads to problems like school dropouts, child labour, and early marriage. There was a discussion about the need for more in-depth data to improve our understanding of these issues.
She said that our efforts are focused on 3 areas:
- Raising awareness among the tea owners on child rights and business principles (CRBP); there is an appreciation of the issues; a strong desire to send kids to school, college, and get good jobs. They (and the children) aspire to have a better life than their current lives and realise that education and skills will give them that. We need to think about stronger advocacy around these aspects.
- Organising the small tea growers into collectives and federations so that they can improve production, processing, and marketing practices for better returns (and thus pay fair wages). We need to do more, to look at this from an enterprise model, and bring in technical partners to strengthen various aspects of harnessing technology; learning from /sharing with the other states and countries.
- Policy influencing with various government departments to ensure access to basic services and social protection schemes and establishing meaningful partnerships with technical partners for example- the Tea and Agro studies Department of Dibrugarh University, Tea Association, etc.
Our resilience work in Dhemaji, one of the remotest parts of Assam bordering Arunachal Pradesh is also excellent. It was a real pleasure to see the kids in the Anganwadi centre and schools so well prepared to cope with a disaster and provide first aid. The innovative water pumps at a height for potable drinking water, the community ownership of the agenda, and the response mechanism that they have developed, right from addressing child protection issues, to continued schooling to the livelihood groups was a testament to the strong community mobilisation and awareness that we have created on child rights, in the last few years.
Issues related to gender bias and a more long term solution to emergency preparedness remain (although it was nice to meet the first woman circle officer in Dhemaji). There were discussions about exploring how we can look at embedding comprehensive school safety in the curriculum, as we have done in the other states.
Our Chairman, Deepak Kapoor also rightly pointed out that we must think harder about how we could use technology (including some of our own initiatives from other geographies) to achieve impact at scale.