Manju Baruah breaks 200-year-old tradition in the tea industry.
The manager or Bada Saheb has headed the tea estates for over 200 years since the British set up the tea estates. Manju Baruah is the first woman Manager of Hilika Tea Estate – an Apeejay tea estate in upper Assam’s Dibrugarh district.
Manju, 43 rides a bike and goes around the 633-hectare tea estate, for the workers who have addressed the manager as Bada Saheb now address her as Sir, and she enjoys it. According to Manju, “A woman manager is certainly a disruption of the traditional management structure in a tea garden, but it’s a disruption of a good kind”.
Manju is an MBA and has a 11-year-old daughter. There are challenges that you have to face in the tea estate, especially while dealing with men workers. There are about 2500 workers on the garden and one has to be fair to everyone says Baruah. Manju was promoted as Manager in August, she joined the tea estate as a welfare officer.
The tea industry is labour intensive and there are more women workers than men. Women workers take care of plucking and pruning.
According to veteran tea planter, Narendra Kumar Puri of Goodricke Group “women workers take care of plucking which requires nimble hands, they are able to pick two leaves and a bud with ease which makes the best quality tea. Companies like Apeejay have encouraged women to take leadership roles which show that the industry is not gender neutral.”
Work on a tea estate is very demanding and requires physical strength, one is outdoors for long hours and you need to weather the elements. In Assam work in the tea states start as early as 6.30 am says, Puri.
Manju has shown the industry that women managers are capable of leadership roles and taking on more responsibility. “Job satisfaction means a lot for me and I can say with pride that my job has ensured precisely that,” she said.