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The Darjeeling Distinction

The Darjeeling Distinction: Labor and Justice on Fair-Trade Tea Plantations in India

Sarah Besky
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 244
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  • Book Info
    The Darjeeling Distinction
    Book Description:

    Nestled in the Himalayan foothills of Northeast India, Darjeeling is synonymous with some of the finest and most expensive tea in the world. It is also home to a violent movement for regional autonomy that, like the tea industry, dates back to the days of colonial rule.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 Distinctionchallenges 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95760-2
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
    (pp. xix-xx)
  6. MAPS
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  7. Introduction: Reinventing the Plantation for the Twenty-first Century
    (pp. 1-38)

    Darjeeling town, perched on one of the highest ridges in the northernmost part of West Bengal, is connected to the rest of India by a rough and bumpy road that begins in the dusty market town of Siliguri. At Siliguri, the railroad from West Bengal’s capital, Kolkata, gives way to a narrow gauge, steam locomotive known locally as the “Toy Train,” which carries tourists up the ridge on a smoky six-hour journey to Darjeeling. By car, the journey from Siliguri to Darjeeling takes just three to four hours, traversing through the foggy forests and tea plantations that fall off the...

  8. 1 Darjeeling
    (pp. 39-58)

    Chowrasta, Darjeeling town’s central plaza, is the hub of early morning activity. Up and down “The Mall,” the paved circular walkway that leads in and out of Chowrasta, macaque monkeys and homeless dogs compete for scraps of food for their morning meal. Students from the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute jog and practice calisthenics, dressed in matching polyester tracksuits. On clear mornings, the plaza draws vista-seeking tourists, anxious for a view of Mount Kanchenjunga, the Himalayan peak to the north and the world’s third highest mountain, and the deep verdant tea plantations in the valleys to the east and west. The Mall...

  9. 2 Plantation
    (pp. 59-87)

    A sheet of rain came down with a dramatic crash. We scattered into the darkness of the Himalayan forest. Despite being chastised for carrying my large rainbow-coloredgentsko chātā(man’s umbrella), I relished having it on dark dreary monsoon days like this, when I could recede into it like a turtle and feel at least a little bit dry. I had promised Neeta, an old woman in the village I was staying in on Saagbari Tea Estate, that I would keep her company while she planted baby tea bushes in a distant section of the tea plantation. All morning, it...

  10. 3 Property
    (pp. 88-112)

    In the spring of 2009, as flourescent green buds of tea were sprouting up on the tea bushes after a winter of dormancy, in what is known as the “first flush,” I was sitting outside the manager’s office of a large conventional tea plantation with Manesh Rai, a retired member of a British Gurkha regiment. Manesh had eagerly arranged a meeting for me, and he even insisted on tagging along, as he was worried about what people might think if I, a single woman, was seen in thisthulo mānchhe’s (or “big man’s”) office, alone, for extended periods of time....

  11. 4 Fairness
    (pp. 113-135)

    Prakriti and I were crouched down, hovering above the dirt floor of her kitchen, chatting about upcoming weddings on the plantation. She was concerned about what colorkurtāI should wear (I wore too much green), and how I might possibly control my wiry “ghostlike” hair for the occasions. As she got up to get us more tea—milky sugarychiyāmade from her monthly ration of dust-grade leaf—the tethered cow in the shed attached to her kitchen let out a long aggravatedmoooo, that vibrated the brittle bamboo walls.

    “What do you do with that cow, anyway?” I...

  12. 5 Sovereignty
    (pp. 136-170)

    I delighted in weaving back and forth across an invisible line—“Now I am in Nepal.” I jumped. “Now I am in India.” I jumped again. Grazing goats passed by and shot me suspicious glances as I examined the small stones that demarcated the border (see figs. 21 and 22).

    I repeated the game of hopscotch several times over the week I spent on Meghma, an organic-certified tea estate near Darjeeling. Meghma straddled the Nepal-India border, high up in the Sandakphu range. As a geographically liminal plantation, it was not included as one of the eighty-seven Darjeeling plantations with GI...

  13. Conclusion: Is Something Better Than Nothing?
    (pp. 171-180)

    One sunny spring afternoon, I sat in a village at Windsor with Som, an older garden supervisor and former union activist. Jamuna, a tea plantation worker, and Maya, Jamuna’s unmarried oldest daughter, joined us. In the early spring, during the first flush, tourists and tea buyers flock to Windsor. In fact, in the weeks leading up to our conversation, tourists had stayed in the homes of the village where Jamuna, Maya, and Som lived. Windsor’s management and Mr. Roy himself had chastised them about the poor quality of the food they prepared, the state of their houses, and the overall...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 181-204)
    (pp. 205-222)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 223-233)