“Aami korbo toh korbo ki?”—What can I even do?—a 45-year-old worker asked. She had been working in the Doloo tea estate, situated in the Cachar district of Assam, for close to six years. Like her late husband, who had died a few years earlier, she had been a permanent employee. On 12 May, her future, as well as that of at least two thousand other workers, was thrown into peril when the Assam government began demolishing the Doloo estate, despite stiff opposition and swelling protests by its workers for several days. Bulldozers entered the estate to make way for a new airport.
Local news organisations shared videos of dozens of JCB machines uprooting tea plants in the presence of police, security forces and officials of the district administration. The action was accompanied by a police crackdown. The previous day, the district magistrate had suddenly imposed orders under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure in the area, prohibiting people from assembling. “There was a probability of breach of law and order, so it was done as a precautionary measure by the government,” Ramandeep Kaur Dhillon, the superintendent of police, told me. The administration also deployed close to a thousand personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force and the police in the area.
The videos showed hapless labourers agitated and crying, urging the government to kill them before destroying tea plants. “This will create a lot of hardships not just for me but for so many of us from our community,” the 45-year-old, who lives with her daughter and son near Lalbagh, a division of the tea estate, told me. According to news reports, over 3 million plants were to be uprooted to construct a greenfield airport—one built from scratch.