cup of tea
Not long after the British occupied Sri Lanka in the early 19th century, the colonists realised isle’s highlands were ideal for growing tea. The formation of plantations in the mountainsides began with the construction of factories and rudimentary accommodations and a railway network to transport the leaves to the capital Colombo. Even though the slave trade was outlawed in the British Empire, the majority of Sri Lankan tea workers were descendants of Indian Tamils – people who were transported by the British in the 1820s and recruited into an indentured labour system that tied workers to plantations. Life has improved little since, yet, as of 2021, Sri Lanka is the fourth largest world tea producer. Tea pickers’ salary is only about 1000 Sri Lankan Rupees (4.35€) if they reach the desired quota of 18kg a day. Their barracks-style houses have electricity or running water for a few hours or do not have them. Surrounded by scenic pine forests, foggy tea estates, and towering mountain peaks – Tamils greet me and smile, but the rest of their face is tense. They remain the most structurally discriminated against and economically, socially and politically marginalised community in the country, leaving persons further behind with each passing generation.