A letter to Northeastern India tea industry professionals, a plea to find common ground for everyone’s benefit.

WARNING: This blog post can be seen as political in nature due to the subject matter it is addressing. It is not my intent to pick a side and demonize one and herald the other, as I am of the full belief that there is an excellent opportunity for the Northeastern India tea region to gain from it. I am also of the full belief that the Northeastern India tea region also has a lot to lose with inaction.  While many would say that it is isolated to one state, the outward effects would ripple to other near by states, so instead of focusing on the micro-prescriptive, I have approached this from a macro-perspective of the whole region. I will not bring up every detail of research that I have conducted on the subject matter, but I will present enough so that an uninformed person and get a background picture of the subject matter and see how my letter fits into the context of being a real call to action and solution.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to write an article for a Italian based tea magazine on a specific cultivar of Camellia sinensis “AV2.” In the near future, I will publish the English version of that article. While I was in the process of collecting information about it I was asked if I was going to talk about the “Gorkhaland Movement?” I politely told several people who asked that, “it was not within the scope of the article.” After writing the article and have been watching from afar for some time since the labor strike started, I decided that I should write a letter to tea industry professionals in Northeast India, to encourage a peaceful resolution and return to normal activities. So I wrote the letter and sent it to several people I knew who are tea industry professionals and asked it to share it with other tea industry professionals. In a short period of time, I got several responses from, I was a bad person for writing it to acceptance that what is going on has serious ramifications that only just started to be talked about in the region.  So I please ask you, before going forward and reading anymore, please try to look at what is being said with an unbiased mind. Look at what is being said as the potential future if things were to deteriorate further. Look at the solution(s) purposed as being a catalyst of economic growth and stability, hence sustainability for future generations, without taken in personal desires of now or the past. If you are firmly are of one side of the issue, then please put a lot of thought of how it would be to be on the other side. While the letter is firm, blunt, and to the point, it is a stark reality that can happen either in the positive or the negative with Northeastern India.

Before going any more forward, I will talk about myself for a short moment. No, this post is not about me, but since I have written the letter and this blog post, it is important for you to understand who I am and some of my life experience.  I grew up in poverty as a child in the United States, raised by a single parent (my father) and we had to grow 1/3 of the vegetables that we ate. My father refused to accept any form of assistance by our government, because he claimed it,”was burdening the government and society.” This was a very ignorant attitude he had. We did not go to the doctor or hospital on a regular basis. We were sent to school when we were sick unless we were vomiting or had very bad diarrhea. You would think that things like this never had happen in the United States.  When I did reports for school, the information came from a encyclopedia from 1971, needless to say once the Soviet bloc of eastern European fell in the early 1990’s, there was some times I didn’t make a good grade. I am not sharing these things with the intent of painting a picture that my father was a bad man, no, he was a great man and did the best he could with what he had, there has been many other men that ran away from responsibilities of raising their children, he didn’t. I am sharing these things because this was my reality and this reality taught me that poverty does not care who you are, who your ancestors were, and that anyone can be born and have a childhood like this, including someone living in the United States.

Another life experience I want to share with you is the time when I went commercial pelagic longlining fishing. It was during the peak of the “Great Recession” of the United States in 2010. Two years before, I originally ventured out to start my own business, on October 10th, 2008, the stock market crash on the collapse of the real estate market. For the rest of 2008 and 2009, I slowly got by with what savings I had, occasionally taking work with companies that had work. It got to the point that there was little to no work in horticulture by 2010. For the beginning of 2010 I managed a liquor store, not too long after the passage of Obamacare, I found myself without a job. I went and worked in politics and after politics, there was nothing, yet the only job that no one wanted, commercial fishing. It doesn’t matter where in the world, commercial fishing is the most dangerous job. Commercial fishermen typically work a minimum of 18 hours a day, they are gone from land for periods of time in various conditions at sea. If they don’t catch enough fish to cover the expenses of a trip, the boat is considered “in the hole,” meaning that future trips must make up the money and cover the expenses of that trip before the fishermen makes money. There were a series of trips in the summer of 2011, that left the boat I was on,”in the hole.” While one thinks that they could simply just quit, the way you get paid can be 4 to 6 weeks after you shipped the fish to the market. So, if you quit, that check you have been waiting for will be applied to expenses accrued. If you think that is illegal, it is not in commercial fishing in the United States. There has been trips I made negative amount of dollars in a day and then there was those trips were I made 500 dollars in a day. I left commercial fishing because it was not consistent enough of money for the amount of work I put into it. I averaged out my hour pay for two years, first year was around $2.20 an hour, while the second year was about $1.85 an hour. While you might think in some parts of the world that is a lot of money, when you factor the cost of living in the United States, then you can see how that compares equally or even less to other impoverish parts of the world. I loved fishing, and I am thankful for the time I spent doing it, because it made me a stronger person, physically and mentality. In fishing, you are an indentured servant, you are indentured to the boat, because it is your life, your livelihood, and your home on the sea. You are also indentured to your captain and crew, to your captain you respect every word and command and to your crew because you life (quite literally) will depend on them at certain times, yet the respect from your captain and crew is reciprocal, because without you they cannot function to full strength.

Now that I have shared some of my personal past and life experience, I hope that you can see and understand I know what social economic hardship is and that I have worked very hard to achieve what I have achieved. It would be wrong of me not to mention that people have helped me in the past, yet it should also be said that those people had the faith in me because I had proven myself and why in many instances helped me.  To say I am insensitive to problems affecting humanity would be incorrect, to say I am intolerant of ignorance would be correct as this is the last reference of myself in this blog.

For you to go forward in understanding the subject of this blog post, you need to understand some aspects of the “Gorkhaland movement.” The area that is being directly affect is in the West Bengal state of India. This state and the one next to it Assam are famed for their tea. The picture below gives an idea of the region and the area currently related to the “Gorkhaland movement.”

Gorkaland map india tea regions

Below I am presenting some background information about the “Gorkhaland movement” from sources that are from India. While some of these might be opinion orientated, you will get a picture on the background information as of late and from the past. Please read these sources of information before reading my letter. These are not all the sources of information I used in formulating my letter.

  1. Demand for Gorkhaland:What is It and Why? June 21, 2008
  2. Darjeeling and GJM’s seperate statehood demands: A brief history of the Gorkhaland Movement June 13, 2017
  3. Tracing the history of Gorkhaland movement: Another crisis triggered by language June 15th, 2017
  4. Why there is no seperate state of Gorkhaland June 19th, 2017
  5. Darjeeling unrest: Here is a history of the Gorkhas and a lazy hamlet called Dorjeeling June 19th, 2017

Below you will find my letter in bold. Please read each line carefully and without emotion of choosing a side. There are some ideas purposed in it, that address the desires of everyone, not just in West Bengal as well.

“Dear Friends of the Northeastern India tea industry,

   I am reaching out to you today because like many people around the world there is a growing concern as it relates to the labor strike and violence as an offshoot of the “Gorkhaland Movement.” In this letter you will find a different perspective. Please before anyone dismisses the positive intent of this letter; take into consideration the global ramifications it would have if civil war was to break out. I knew before I began to write this letter, this is a very complex issue. I have taken that into account. I want to focus on why a permanent solution must be created, how the tea industry can be proactive in creating and implementing the solution, and we need the labor strike to end and for change to happen to prevent further violence and promote unity with peace.  

What might appear to be a regional problem in India, in fact, is potentially a global problem. It will not only affect the tea trade as a whole, but the conditions are there if war does break out for ISIS to become embedded within the fighting further making for years of struggle and pain. Currently, ISIS is being eradicated from Libya and Iraq and being concentrated down in Syria. While this is good for global security, we cannot ignore the previous ISIS attacks in India and how ISIS has expanded further into Asia, more recently in the Philippines. While Bangladesh is not seen an enemy of India, it is a recruiting ground for ISIS. Given the history of Pakistan and India since British delineation of borders, Pakistan is potentially another recruiting ground for ISIS. A civil war in India, even if it contained to one region is another potential platform to keep the global terror network going. Please also take into consideration that under President Obama certain regulations were passed to ensure tea and other food products imported to the United States are meet with some particular safety standards and quality controls, so that terrorism strike through food products are avoided. If a terrorist attack was implemented and people died from consuming tea, it was be very hard for Indian tea to recover in the United States and European markets.

On a national level, tea is one of the classical imagines a foreigner has of India, along with the Tjah Mahal, Indian elephants, Bengal Tigers, Hinduism, multiculturalism, and curry to name a few. Since the development of tea plantations in India, it is a staple export and cultural important aspect for a modern India. With the strike occurring, there is an effect that goes across several sectors of industry in India. The less the tea estate produce, then less they need resources and services from other businesses. Ideally in a free market as the supply goes down, then price should spike, yet it is apparent that the tea estates are bearing a heavy loss in revenue generate and loss of profits as they have kept their prices stable to appease customers who have become weary of the conditions and future. While these estates are potentially running off of their monetary reserves currently, this can only last before a collapse will happen, which could lead to large amount of foreign investors purchasing estates and reshaping the Northeastern India tea dynamic as a whole. Artificial manipulation of the amount of estates in production and the usage of mechanized robotic harvesting for Orthodox and CTC product are potential technologies to be developed and implemented after foreign control is established. A foreign controlled N.E. India could later lead to shortages within India. Foreign owned companies can install their private security groups and utilize vast resources and networks to have legal actions enforced in various courts in and outside of India.  As much as we would like to think again this is a worst case scenario, in the global economy this is a stark reality and possible future.

On a regional basis, a lack of work among worker can potentially lead to a humanitarian crisis as food resources become smaller due to a lack of cash flow to acquire such resources. While there has been an example of this leading to separate states in the past, the economic industry is bound across ethnical and cultural lines because of the location, this is not truly a similar situation because of the industry that is built there. Further distrust and distain will only be brought forth if regional issues are not examined and remedied. This must be reviewed village by village, town by town so there is an inclusive and encompassing solution created.

On an individual basis, the loss of life, even if it is just only one, is too many lives lost. The loss of life, security of life, home, their family, and their personal property can be avoided through a diplomatic and fair solution. Too many individuals have too much to lose without finding common ground and finding a permanent solution.

The tea industry, be it field workers, the factory workers, the estate owners, every person is connected and has a responsibility to help one another avoid any of the aforementioned possibilities mention above. Yes, we understand that the people of Gorka and ethnically different than those of Bengali and Sikkim. Yes, we understand without them there is no tea industry. Yes, we know that no sooner than tomorrow we can arrange a series of actions to address their needs as well as address ours in a positive manner that benefits every party. The tea industry must take the reins; this must come from the people first. This cannot be a mandate from Kolkatta or New Dehli, this must be an agreement that will stand the test of time and resolved any and all differences. The tea industry should create a unilateral organization with varying stakeholders from various estates and various positions from estates. It should be balanced and fair, giving equal representation to the affairs of the organization. This organization will serve as the umbrella to all other others in Northeast India. The organization will be the India Sustainable Tea Alliance (ISTA), with their representatives voted on by all the workers within there perspective areas of operation. Each worker pays an equal percentage of their income to fund the organization. In time, the ISTA can seek funding from the Nation of India, United Nations, NGOs, or other internet crowd sourced means. The ISTA can focus on resolving several key issues first.

  1. Access to clean, healthy potable water to cook and clean. ISTA can set up a series of water stations throughout West Bengal and Assam.
  2. ISTA can purchase older estates and convert them into food production estates, with the food be distributed equally. These older estates can serve this purpose and also be water stations.
  3. ISTA can work on basic medical treatment through its’ networks of tea to food estates. While this are not substitute to hospitals, they would serve as regional clinics for all workers in the tea industry.
  4. ISTA can establish educational programs at their stations, from primarily and secondary education of English, tea management, and other educational opportunities. These stations would be open to any and all children, adult workers of the tea industry, and adult workers of ISTA.
  5. ISTA can work on improvement projects of member tea estates, soil conversation, renewable energy production, organic certification program, with other existing organizations.
  6. ISTA can work on unified marketing of tea estates globally and brand awareness for member estates. Business education to ensure profitable gains while maintaining and augmenting a bountiful career of the tea industry worker while focus on increase the value of the tea made.
  7. ISTA can serve as the mediator to avoid labor strikes or prolonged labor strikes. Ensure safe work conditions exist with fair treatment of workers.
  8. ISTA can develop a certification and identification system of employment, to allow the fluid transfer of workers from one estate to another. Develop guidelines to handle various situations with workers.
  9. ISTA can boost overall economic stability and development within India as it becomes a global superpower in trade and commerce.
  10. ISTA can serve as a global model for agriculture dominant societies to follow as global markets have more access to their products.

You may say such an organization like this might already exist, yet I would question where did it fail? Yes, all of the issues surrounding the problems today may have little to none with the above mentioned reference points, yet it will take a little bit of time to resolve things and to get the ISTA going. Here is my plan to do just that, it would take roughly 8 weeks to implement.

Weeks 1 Gather as much data and information of all major invested parties into this conflict.

Weeks 2-4 Travel with translators and meet with these invested parties as well as any of the other people who affect and record as much information as possible.

Week 5-6 Work on a resolution, review the resolution with major invested parties, and make changes accordingly. Once the resolution is agreed upon, make copies of said resolution, and revisit the areas from which stakeholders can pledge their support with a stamp of their finger. Begin a social media campaign to follow along with it.

Week 7 Present the resolution to proper elected officials, so they can approve of it, if need be. An addition extra week is given to ensure acceptance and passage.

Now, that might seem like a lot and would require a lot of resources. Unfortunately, in comparison to the revenue loss, it is not as much.

The shortest answer I can give to take action immediately to end the strike is for the state of West Bengal to be renamed Bengali-Gorkaland, repartition the districts so that in one part of the state Bengali is the first language taught with Nepalese being the second language taught, then in other part it is Nepalese first than Bengali second. English would be officially the third language, be it public schools or ISTA stations can teach it. The partitioning should be conducted on a census of people in the region. Some represents may be realigned for political reasons, which would take effect in the future, during the next rounds of elections. While that may have little to no effect in national politics, it should have an effect on state politics. This is shortest answer I can give without visiting.

When you look at the State of Yunnan, China, you cannot forget that there are 27 different tribes within the state. They live in peace, because they know it brings prosperity. Yunnan is moving up in the tea world, brand awareness, tourism. It would greatly benefit them if India did fall or continued to have issues. While I am not out to change decades or hundreds of years cultural difference, I am looking for the current and next generation to be an example of sensible and fair problem solving. If that requires me to visit and help lead a way through, well I am open to that through sponsorship of those who want to see the strike end, to see the ISTA built, and to watch peace settle in the air once more. I know that risk would be taken by traveling there, yet I am willing to take that risk if it means I have brought something truly positive to northeastern India and helped averted civil war. Northeast India has a tough choice to make, either work together for betterment of everyone or potentially risk losing everything for everyone, but I have faith the right choice will be made.

 

Thank you for reading…..

Take Care,

Joshua Giordano-Silliman”

Let me make several points of clarification here, because of the previous responses I have already received from the letter.

  1. I do not believe that the Gorkha’s or the Gorkhaland Movement are a terrorist group, yet those who use violence as their form of protest are. It has been noted that, healthcare and education centers have been destroyed, along with food and water supplies. These targeted things are essential to building stability within any society or civilization, hence my suggestion of the ISTA focus on building those project across the whole Northeast region.
  2. While it is might appear I am using fear of “what if,” that is not the case because it is an evaluation of the worse case scenario and in a proactive approach you must try to account for the worse case scenario, so that you are prepared. This is not a far fetched concept, the horrible acts of 9/11/01 taught the United States and the world, there are those who will do anything. The current horrible acts of ethnic cleansing by ISIS, is the reality of today.
  3. It is public knowledge that the India government has moved a considerable amount of the army into the region and have staged them with support divisions. This would outwardly appear to show a bigger potential problem. In my opinion, the bigger problem is not civil war, that can be handled by the extra police and para-military forces already deployed.
  4. I do not support that taking of tea estates without compensation to their owners and handing it over to the Gorkha’s, that is stealing. If Gorkha Indian’s want their own estates, then they should buy them. I don’t like the concept of taking away tea estates even with compensation, because that is forced migration on people who may have build and maintained those estates through generations.
  5. I do not support inhumane treatment of workers, if there is inhumane treatment, then please present that evidence to the United Nations, if you feel the India government will do nothing.
  6. If tea estate owners have created an indentured servant atmosphere, they should stop, they should forgive the debts owed. Those who owe debts through this system and have their debts forgiven, they should migrate away from the region or never agree again to be indebted.
  7. What I am proposing by the creation of ISTA, is not “nation building,” no, this regional economic development, because it looks to improve all of Northeast India’s tea region. It is economic development as some of the outcomes of the projects can and cannot be measured, yet the value of products produce after the development will increase creating long term stability and growth.
  8. I support the conservation and preservation of all cultures of the world, that is why it is hard for me to understand why a culture fighting for this would starve itself or put itself in harm’s way, that is counterproductive to the conservation cause.
  9. I have for a very long time respected and admired India’s tea culture, as well as many others. I believe there is a lot of ideas, cultural practices, germplasma, and technology to be shared between India and the world. I will still encourage this every single day, yet we must have resolution and stability for everyone to grow from India’s tea experience.
  10. I wrote this letter as a citizen of the world, there are some Americans who would support my letter and there would be others who don’t. No one paid me to write this letter. I mentioned if someone wanted to sponsor me to come there to help with finding a resolution. This was my offer to help, all the way to my physical presences. If someone want me to come to India and spearhead this and the formation of the ISTA, then it can happen. I am willing to take the risk but I cannot do it without compensation, that would be a poor decision on my part and my company would be affected negatively. Currently, I do not have any plans to come to India, yet I do have plans to keep an eye on what is going on there. Because I am firmly believe everyone there has something to lose and other states in the region will be negatively affected as well.  I prefer to see peace and resolution.

I normally don’t write these letters or blogs, but there is a serious situation going on in Northeast India. I hope that you have taken away from this that there is an excellent opportunity for everyone to benefit.

If there was one thing I would tell the Gorkhas, stop the strike and go take care of the plants, yet when the fields are fine, keep pushing for change and to the estate owners affected, start to think about the changes that need to be done to prevent further strikes.

Thank You for reading this and I hope I have help those affected to see the situation from a different angle and encouraged a willingness to resolve the problems at hand. Northeast India is the tip of the spear of India becoming a world superpower in trade and commerce. Tea tourism alone will bring more investment to the region and the nation.

For this is the end of the line on this blog post.

Thank you Again,

Peace,

Joshua

high flyer end of the line

High flyer buoy at the end of the longline……..

 

 

 

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. rathin chatterjee says:

    Gorkha land is unsustainable on its own and would boil down to either the State or Nationsl Govt subsidising. It would also give momentum to other movements like Bodoland, Kamtapuris, and many such movements.
    They were given an autonomous council which had been used to profit themselves and in fact the present crisis is also s diversionary tactic to thwart the effort to audit their spendings. This is the reality that all must know.

    Like

  2. samit sarkar says:

    I think this is a radically refreshing idea which may work to bring the Tea industry out of the present quagmire. We are still whining and groaning without actually doing anything tangible.
    Thank you Joshua.

    Like

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