Gandur still guards a closed tea factory

Years ago, the single call from the gora bada sahib (white garden manager) would send 14-year-old Gandur Oraon running to his master.

Seated on a worn-out wooden stool at the entrance of Raipur tea factory, Gandur, now 67 years old, waits in vain to hear the same call again. In times of desperation, he too feels inclined to abandon his post, just like his malik (garden owner) has done (the estate has been closed since October 2003). However, his concern for the worn out machinery — crusher, curler, drier and sundry other equipment — holds him back.

Never mind that over the past three years, he has not got a single penny from the “real owners” of the machinery that he so zealously protects.

Gandur’s predicament represents the dilemma faced by all gatemen, or security guards, of old and abandoned tea gardens in the Dooars belt.

“I don’t even think of leaving the estate, because once I stop keeping a watch on the factory and the plantations, everything — from machinery to tea bushes — would be stolen,” Gandur says.

Migrating from his native village near Ranchi, Gandur had joined Raipur tea estate as a chowkidar in 1953.

“I was appointed as a chowkidar with a monthly salary of Rs 60,” he said. “I could easily manage with the sum as the management allotted quarters, ration and firewood supply was regular and health facilities were good.”

Dukhun Mondal, a junior colleague of Gandur, said the past four-five years have been the worst time of their lives. “But if we leave and things get stolen, the chances of the estate ever reopening will be even less,” he added.

The situation is the same in gardens like Ramjhora, Kanthalguri and Chamurchi. Rafel Lal, a chowkidar who used to serve at Ramjhora tea estate (closed since March 2002), said: “We live on the money earned by our family members.”

Representatives of NGOs working in closed and abandoned estates are well aware of the desperate situation of the chowkidars.

“Though they have not received any tangible return for their duty for years, it is surprising that they still want to guard the estate property,” Anuradha Talwar, adviser to the Supreme Court’s committee on right to food, recently told The Telegraph over phone from Calcutta. “Sometimes, they even go without food, but still remain at the gardens.”

Source: The Telegraph