The Darjeeling Distinction: Labor and Justice on Fair-Trade Tea Plantations in India (California Studies in Food and Culture)
In this nuanced ethnography, Sarah Besky narrates the lives of tea workers in Darjeeling. She explores how notions of fairness, value, and justice shifted with the rise of fair-trade practices and postcolonial separatist politics in the region. This is the first book to explore how fair-trade operates in the context of large-scale plantations.
Readers in a variety of disciplines—anthropology, sociology, geography, environmental studies, and food studies—will gain a critical perspective on how plantation life is changing as Darjeeling struggles to reinvent its signature commodity for twenty-first-century consumers. The Darjeeling Distinction challenges fair-trade policy and practice, exposing how trade initiatives often fail to consider the larger environmental, historical, and sociopolitical forces that shape the lives of the people they intended to support.
the honey, will taste his hands [the one who works, deserves the spoils]. . . . It’s hard to work and live. That is why we need our land. We need our land. That’s it!” Ad hoc evaluations of the functioning of fair trade, the increasing presence of tourists coming to taste Darjeeling tea as part of GI- or fair-trade-related tourism projects, and the potentials and shortcomings of the Gorkhaland movement drifted in and out of tea laborers’ conversations about the state of what I have called the
the upper floor of a tea factory. To initiate the rolling process, tea slides down a chute from the upper floor. Around and around and around, the tea leaves are pressed and rolled in antique British-era contraptions that look like metallic grain mills. Imagine taking a damp leaf and compressing and turning it between your palms, making the flat surface into a twisted sprig. The rolling machine is a steel, coal-fired version of this process. By hand or by machine, the pressure and friction
“tip,” and the abolishment of rent for grazing and herding.49 Many of the provisions were part of wartime welfare reforms, but the CPI(M) worked to ensure that Darjeeling tea plantation workers in independent India continued to receive them on a permanent basis. These provisions also mirrored those negotiated by sardārs during the era of colonial labor recruitment. Planters claimed that these benefits were intended to only be temporary, but in a circular dated July 28, 1947, less than three weeks
Rather, they wanted to change the terms on which their children would inherit the Darjeeling landscape. Workers’ stories narrated a desire for a distinct and historically specific vision of what agricultural and economic development experts call “sustainability.”63 An attention to multispecies sociality and entanglement calls into question the things and processes being sustained. Workers leveled their critique of bisnis practices to recover a sense of physical and familial stability, so that
Gorkhaland agitation were filled with metaphorical and historical appeals to a population united not only in its marginalization, but also in a cultivated affect toward the place it called home. Images of plants and soil dominated those 2008 rallies. Mindful of the association of the first Gorkhaland agitation with violence, politicians sought to strike a softer tone. As one politician put it, railing against the “divisive” tribal rhetoric of the Sixth Schedule movement: “We are flowers of