Conducts research and collects data on the global history of labour, workers, and labour relations

A Cup of Assam Tea

10 January 1839
Plucking tea in a tea garden of Assam
Wikimedia Commons

The first auction of Assam tea on January 10, 1839, in London created a lot of excitement.  Connoisseurs described it as 'good, middling, strong, high burnt, rather smoky,….” The great Assam tea industry in India now grew rapidly. A speculative tea boom in 1860 led to the opening up of gardens and importation of thousands of indentured labourers.  In the 1880s, no less than a million workers (including children) were imported into Assam. The minimum wage level remained constant for over about seventy years when the indenture system was in operation. The wage of identured labour also determined over the long term the wages of free labour. With its special penal sanctions, the system of indentured labour immobilized a substantial section of the labour force and allowed planter control over the labour market as a whole. 

Read more in: Prabhu P. Mohapatra, 'Regulated Informality' in: Workers in the Informal Sector. Studies in Labour History 1800-2000 (New Delhi 2005) 97-121.