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An insight into abjection and deplorability: tea plantation workers in N. Bengal

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By Sreyashi Mazumdar

Darjeelingteagardens

Amid the lush greeneries and vivacious stretch of tea leaves, there is a hidden conundrum making life difficult for the people inhabiting the hilly terrains of North Bengal. Despite being picturesque enough at a mere glance, the complexities veiled behind the flamboyance gives way to heart wrenching problems like ascending number of death cases, malnutrition, human trafficking etc; the root cause behind the surging maliciousness being rampant closure of tea gardens. The ageing tea bushes and plummeting production scale has unleashed all hell on the tea garden workers.

According to an Aljazeera report , more than 100 tea plantations workers had lost their lives in the past one year owing to the closure of tea gardens in the Dooars region of North Bengal.  Social isolation, malnutrition and anemia are some of the pressing concerns of the day, trampling the livelihoods of the people dependent on tea cultivation.

Adhering to the figures given by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), consuming less than 1800 calories a day leads to starvation. A report by a local NGO fleshes out that around 1200 households in the Budapani estate of Jalpaiguri district consume a meager amount of 250 calories a day- the figure being a complete contrast to the aforesaid calories intake per day

Even though there are tea gardens that are still operating, a majority of them- especially the one located in Bundapani, Dheklapara, Redbank, Surendranagar and Dharanipur have testified shutdowns for a considerable time now.

Rising number of deaths among plantation workers

Plucking_tea_in_a_tea_garden_of_Assam

A study of UTWF (United tea workers front) in Dooars shows that around 1000 workers have died in the past one decade.

“The fact is there are more than 100 deaths this year owing to the closure of at least five tea gardens and abject poverty… As their wages are abysmally low, the poor workers or their family members have neither the fat on their bodies nor the balance in their banks to survive,” said Anuradha Talwar, the state advisor to the Supreme Court Commission on the right to food, as quoted by Al Jazaeera.

Owing to the shutdown of tea estates, a large chunk of the population has been left crippled. A majority of these tea workers used to get facilities like housing, electricity, water, ration and health care from the management until the shut downs in the recent past.

“Most people in the gardens suffer from severe anemia…People have no money to buy food,” says Dr. Sabhyasachi Sarkar who works with a local NGO, as quoted in an NDTV report.

The reason behind the large scale shutdown of tea estates in North Bengal is the plummeting scale of production and lack of profit. Further, the descending scale of yield is mainly due to ageing tea bushes.

The workers across the five gardens adversely affected by the perennial problem of closures have often demanded the state government’s intervention in the matter; they want the state government to take over the closed tea gardens; however, the government isn’t interested in doing so.

State Government’s tidbit of a contribution:

Tea_Garden_at_Dooars

 

The government’s apathy towards the precarious condition of the tea plantation workers has further aggravated the situation. “There are no starvation deaths in tea gardens of Bengal,” said the state health minister Chandrima Bhattacharya. She further added that the gloomy situation in North Bengal was due to prolonged malnutrition.

 

Further, despite the government has been trying to recuperate the status of the workers by providing work under the MNREGA schemes, around 30, 000 workers across North Bengal has been suffering from rampant poverty and malnutrition.

“We are in a very bad condition. The government doesn’t really care. We want the government to provide us enough resources as it has become quite impossible for us to make both ends meet. I have lost my 28-year-old son Gogoi to malnutrition. The tea garden where he was working got closed in the year 2003-2004 and after that he was striving hard to meet the needs of the family; however, he met death in the mid way,” laments 65-year-old Tenzin, who was also a tea plantation worker.

Last year, the state government in its attempt at cracking down upon the pervading deplorability of the tea plantation workers had written to the Union minister of state for commerce and industry Niramala Sitharaman asking for a special package for the 3000 tea workers. “Labourers of the five closed tea gardens in North Bengal will be getting Rs. 1500 per month cash subsistence from the government,” said the Chief Minister of the state Mamata Banerjee, as quoted in a report in the Indian Express.

Adhering to the recent development, the state government has passed a bill to set up a West Bengal Tea Plantation Employee’s Welfare Board to look after the well being of the tea garden workers.

Since Mamata Banerjee came to power, she has been talking a lot about poriborton (change), but the abjection borne by the tea plantation workers seem to mock her flagship programme – her dream of rendering a change to the state. However the state government’s recent attempts at curbing the precariousness throw some light upon the poor people inhabiting the devastated areas of North Bengal.

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Drop-dead (to become) Gorgeous? How Social Media Corrupts our Definition of Body Image

Researchers believe that social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are even more harmful than stipulated websites in support of anorexia due to the increased accessibility and wider target audience of as these mediums.

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Anorexia is not photogenic. Instagram

New Delhi, November 1, 2017 : I have grown up as a conscious kid; hours spent looking at pictures of strangers with perfectly toned bodies have been like an everyday ritual, carried out religiously, day after day. But thankfully, my fascination for the ‘ideal’ body that ruled the internet never materialized and it was not long before I became happy in my own skin.

Years later, I look at my 12 year old sister, who wishes to consume only watermelon juice because that’s what her favorite blogger does too, to maintain her fit body. She is my teenage sister’s ‘#fitspo’, she proudly announces.

Just a young teenager, where is she getting all this information from, you’d wonder.

The answers is; everywhere!

We are all chasing unrealistic expectations when it comes to our body image, courtesy the enormous content we consume over different social media.

Social media has completely radicalized the way we see body image- ourselves and other people, and transformed the way we interact with the larger society.

If analyzed duly,
aren’t we all seeking validation
on the internet at the
expense of a ‘like’?

You can never be sure which side you will be on – messages on social media can spread self-hatred, animosity, encouragement, joy and a myriad of other emotions. It is like this that movements have created not just ripples but waves on the social media; some positive while others more damaging than we are prepared to handle.

People are constantly being bombarded with pictures of the body image that is ‘goals’, the ‘ideal’ body; photos and videos of people dieting and exercise have become a part of mainstream generation, so much so that the hashtag fitspo is one of the most used hashtag of the present times.

This increased proliferation of the ‘ideal’ body image often has people comparing themselves to images of strangers and people online, hoping to be more like them.

We are at a phase of life when
images of strangers’ bodies and lifestyles not only affect but govern our lives-
in ways that may be far beyond
our expectations.

According to a study published in October, it was revealed that an increasing number of people are celebrating extreme thinness on various social media accounts. The research, carried out by researchers at University of Exeter, shed light on the hundreds of users, especially women, who were praising anorexic bodies on Twitter and Instagram under the umbrella term ‘thinspiration’.

The Research

Researchers analyzed 734 images that were posted on Twitter, Instagram and We Heart It with indicative hashtags- #thinspiration, #bonespiration and #fitspiration.

body image
An anorexic model. Pixabay

 

The images that came under the scanner were selfies taken by girls, boasting about their withered bodies by highlighting their protruding collar bones, spine, rib cage and hip bones.

It was revealed that an alarming amount of content online is dedicated to glorifying such shrunken bodies, plagued by eating disorders.

Shockingly, the researchers found that every shared image was complimented alongside proud captions boasting about the calories they had consumed that day, or how they ‘totally rock a thigh gap’.

 

 

The Instagram Effect

I remember being in school when the entire ruckus about a thigh-gap gained momentum. After almost 5 years, I am a 22 year-old adult now, and the world continues to rave about the thigh-gap.

Different eating orders, even umbrella terms like “Pro-Ana” and “Pro-Mia” that were essentially aimed at promoting anorexia and bulimia as an ideal lifestyle choice, are not new. However, the only difference is the dangerously new breeding platform that social media has provided to these hazardous body image campaigns.

Researchers are convinced that social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are even more harmful than stipulated websites in support of anorexia due to the increased accessibility and wider target audience of as these mediums.

Not very surprisingly, the Bonespiration movement has now become rampant – easily accessible with hashtags like needtobethin, thinspiration, fitspo, etc, pro-eating disorder and a specifically shrunken body image content drive this campaign on almost all social media platforms.

According to Claire Mysko, spokesperson for the National Eating Disorders Association, “Thinspiration is content that promotes weight loss but often in a way that actively glorifies eating disordered behavior and thoughts.”

#Thinspo and #Fitspo And Eating Disorders

#Thinspo :  The thinspiration or the thinspo movement has an enormous presence with almost all bloggers and models using it as a hashtag in their posts. Although thinspo does not categorically promote eating disorders, it is dominated by images of unrealistically (and dangerously) thin women (and sometimes men), who portray themselves as the ideal body image; an inspiration for people to lose enormous amounts of weight.

#Fitspo : The fitspiration, or fitspo hashtag initially emerged as a counter movement to thinspo by promoting healthy eating and working out culture but it is popularly believed that the movement makes use of equally unrealistic and hence dangerous imagery.

body image
Fitspo can loosely translate to being obsessed with healthy eating and working out. Pixabay

These extreme behaviors foster unhealthy expectations in the minds of individuals who then begin to seek impossible results from their diets and exercise plans to look like the ‘ideal’ bodies that rule the internet.

Various researches are known to have noted that constant exposure to such content psychologically affects users.

According to another study published in January by researchers at University of Adelaide (Australia), it was found that women posting ‘fitspiration’ posts on Instagram are at a greater risk of suffering from eating disorders.

Additionally, anorexia nervosa reports nearly 10 per cent mortality rate, thus being the most dangerous psychological disorder. People who do not die from anorexia can still suffer health effects like loss of bone mass, damage to heart, and withered immune system.

In 2012, Instagram had banned the use of five hashtags “thinspiration”, “imugly”,  “anorexia”, “proana”, and “thighgap”.

However, that did little to no help as propagators of these body image hashtag trends look for alternate spellings or combinations of words that are close to the original and can convey similar meanings. You would be surprised to know that despite the ban, there continue to be more than 1,44,000 posts tagged #bonespo on Instagram to date.

body image
Notice the variations in spelling, following the ban of the hashtag thinspiration. Instagram

Is There No End?

Social media has garnered a lot of criticism for such gregarious body image content that propagates unhealthy behaviors and attitudes, because of which some social media sites have updated their guidelines and instructed users to strictly not post content promoting self-harm in any manner, doing which can lead to dismissal of their accounts. However, how practical is it to monitor the billions of posts that are shared on a daily basis?

While several hashtags like #pro-ana or #pro-mia have been banned by social media vigilantes, several users continue to post #thinspiration content with new hashtags that haven’t been recognized by the social media police.

Certainly, this has emerged as an online epidemic, now beyond the realm and control of social media.

Approach to Recovery

Every coin as a flip side.

Social media platforms also combine pro-recovery groups that make use of hashtags that people seeking a way out search for.

“It is like an intervention”.

– Claire Mysko,
                     director of programs,
the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), USA

Individuals seeking recovery from an unhealthy lifestyle or anorexia can connect with people who have been affected by similar notions of an unhealthy body image and eating disorders and receive comments of encouragement from all over the world – the warmth and the support are literally like getting a virtual hug.

Instagram has also now installed a filter that offers support every time a user searcher for similar dangerous words like anorexia.

body image
Support filter on Instagram. Instagram

~  NewsGram supports all things healthy.  

We urge you to go online and have a look yourself at all the ‘thinspiration’ posts. They tend to glamorize anorexia and promote frail models and starvation, ignoring their health and well being.

Anorexia is not photogenic.

Anorexia is not glamorous. Not from the outside, definitely not from the inside.

 

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UN Report on Rohingya Hunger Crisis Suspended on Order of Myanmar Government

The current crisis began on August 25 when Rohingya insurgents attacked police checkpoints on Myanmar's Rakhine state and killed 12 security personnel.

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Rohingya
Rohingya refugees collect aid supplies including food and medicine, sent from Malaysia, at Kutupalang Unregistered Refugee Camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Feb. 15, 2017, VOA

United Nations, October 17, 2017: The UN food aid agency withdrew a critical report revealing desperate hunger among the Rohingya Muslim minority after the Myanmar government ordered it to be taken down, the media reported on Tuesday.

The July assessment by the World Food Programme (WFP) warned that more than 80,000 children under the age of five were “wasting” – a potentially fatal condition of rapid weight loss, reports the Guardian.

The six-page document has since been replaced with a statement saying Myanmar and WFP were “collaborating on a revised version”.

That process would involve “representatives from various ministries, and will respond to the need for a common approach” that was in line with “WFP’s future cooperation with the government”.

When asked why the July report was removed, the WFP said it was withdrawn from the website “following a request by the government to conduct a joint review”, the Guardian reported.

In a statement, the agency said: “The WFP stands by its original assessment, which was conducted jointly with local authorities in Rakhine state… However WFP recognises that in a dynamic and evolving situation, it is important to coordinate closely with all partners, including the government.”

Meanwhile, the UN’s most senior official in the country is scheduled to leave at the end of the month amid allegations she suppressed another report and also attempted to shut down public advocacy on Rohingya suffering.

The current crisis began on August 25 when Rohingya insurgents attacked police checkpoints on Myanmar’s Rakhine state and killed 12 security personnel.

It resulted in over half a million Rohingya fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh, many alleging that the Myanmar Army conducted a counter-offensive that included mass killings and rapes.(IANS)

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Annual Global Hunger Index : Global Hunger Levels Rise for the first time in ten years ; Africa tops the list

The index is based on levels of hunger in the general population, and rates of wasting, stunting and deaths among children under 5 years old.

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global hunger
A mother holds onto her emaciated infant at an emergency feeding clinic in Maradi, Niger. (VOA)

Rome, October 12, 2017 : Global hunger has fallen more than a quarter since 2000, but conflict and climate shocks are beginning to reverse these gains, an annual global hunger index said.

Nearly half of the 119 countries surveyed had “serious,” “alarming” or “extremely alarming” hunger levels between 2012 and 2016, with war-torn Central African Republic worst affected, followed by Chad, Sierra Leone, Madagascar and Zambia.

“Conflict- and climate-related shocks are at the heart of this problem,” said Dominic MacSorley, chief executive of Concern, which compiled the report along with the International Food Policy Research Institute and Welthungerhilfe.

About half of the populations in the hungriest countries were short of food, it said.

South Sudan and Somalia, which are at risk of renewed famine, were among 13 countries excluded from the index because of lack of data.

The United Nations said last month that global hunger levels had risen for the first time in more than a decade, now affecting 11 percent of the world’s population, or 815 million people.

Famine struck parts of South Sudan earlier this year, the U.N. said, and there is a high risk that it could return there, as well as develop in other countries hit by conflict: northeast Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen.

Yemen came sixth in the index as its hunger crisis has spiked since 2015, when civil war erupted and the data cover the period 2012 to 2016.

ALSO READ Global Hunger on Rise Again: UN Food Agencies

Although most of Nigeria is relatively food secure, the eight-year Islamist Boko Haram insurgency has left millions in the northeast at risk of starvation.

“We must build the resilience of communities on the ground, but we must also bolster public and political solidarity internationally,” MacSorley said in a statement.

The survey found that 14 countries — including Senegal, Azerbaijan, Peru, Panama, Brazil and China — had made significant improvements since 2000.

The index is based on levels of hunger in the general population, and rates of wasting, stunting and deaths among children under 5 years old.

Women, girls and ethnic minorities are most at risk of hunger, which causes nearly half of deaths in under 5s, it said.

“The world needs to act as one community with the shared goal of ensuring not a single child goes to bed hungry each night and no one is left behind,” MacSorley said. (VOA)