The ‘no land’s men’ in Munnar’s tea estates

Tea plantation workers, housing issues, Munnar, tea estate, retirement
In the past 10 years, over 1,000 people have been forced to move out of the town after retirement. All photos by Prabhakar Tamilarasu

Life in the labour lines in idyllic Munnar offers a shocking contrast to the beauty of the unending hill slopes shrouded by green carpets of tea bushes. Yet, for Chinnathai, a tea plantation worker, her leaky, worn down house is her most prized possession.

Leaning against the wall of her house, the 58-year-old looks increasingly worried, as the sun sets behind the lush green hills. "One more day gone," she says. With each passing day, Chinnathai — a third-generation tea plantation worker of Tamil origin — is reminded of her approaching retirement in two months. And with that, the fear of becoming homeless.

“My grandparents migrated from a village in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu to Munnar about seven decades ago to work in the tea estates here. Like them, we continued to work and live here,” she says.

Chinnathai, like many others of her time, has been living in the decrepit residential quarters for generations. The company they and their forefathers worked for — the Kanan Devan Hills Plantations (KDHP) — had provided those on its rolls with small shanties. Most of those living in the now-concrete labour quarters have no land or home of their own.

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