For hundreds of women plantation labourers working on coffee estates, harassment begins as soon as they get into the pick-up vehicles sent by the estates.
Men and women are literally “loaded” into vehicles beyond their carrying capacity. Jostling and pushing are the mildest forms of harassment they face in transit. In some places autorickshaws are hired to pick up workers, where the situation is not very different.
But what they face while travelling is negligible when compared to what they undergo in workplace. In many places, plantation workers are asked to work as domestic help in the houses of the estate owners. “I have seen many women workers being made to wash owners’ innerwear. That is humiliation and harassment,” said H. Venkatesh, a plantation worker of Sringeri.
In a recent incident reported from Rayara Koplu village in Alur taluk, the manager of the estate asked the women worker to climb up trees to reap pepper, against norms. The women workers went on a strike. After senior leaders of the plantation workers’ federation intervened, the managers withdrew their order.
There are instances galore of owners, managers or writers forcing women workers for sexual favours. However, hardly any victim of such violence reports to the police. “Hundreds of such cases happen in estates but get buried,” said Prasad Raxidi, an agriculturist and theatre activist in Sakaleshpur taluk. He said that locals can recall at least 100 such instances in estates in Sakaleshpur taluk in just one year.
Devaki, who worked in an estate near Balehonnur in Chikmagalur for some years, said that sexual harassment and physical abuse are common. “On many occasions, I was beaten up by owners. Once I had to stay put in a forest area adjacent to the estate for two days to escape from the owner, who was waiting to beat me up,” she recalled.
V. Sukumar, convener (South Zone) of All India Plantation Workers’ Federation, pointed out that harassment had been there wherever the feudal culture continues to exist. “Feudal culture still persists in many estates,” he said. “The Plantation Labour Act, 1951, has been in books for decades.”