Every beautiful creation is an outcome of someone's diligence. The lush green tea gardens of Bangladesh are no exceptions. There is an entire community toiling in the tea garden, a community which is often overlooked.
Inside Shamser Nagar cha polli, in a little mud house, painted in blue, lives Mohan Rabidas.
Being born and brought up in this highly marginalised community, Mohan Rabidas, is a ray of hope. He is the Founding President of Jagoron Youth Forum that works for the development of children and households of the tea gardens.
The description of his childhood is not a pleasant one. 28-year-old Mohan Rabidas was born in Shamsher Nagar, Moulvibazar. Coming from a family of tea labourers, Rabidas has spent his childhood selling grass with his father and shepherding cows. He then loaned money to get enrolled into schools. As a student, he faced language barriers since his mother tongue is Nagri.
There are hardly any primary schools, let alone universities in the tea gardens. The children of tea workers get bullied, discriminated against, and have a tough time coping with other students because of the language barrier. Among 241 tea gardens of Bangladesh and a tea population of fifteen lakhs there are very few who have attended university.
Yet, Rabidas managed to overcome all the obstacles. He now has a Bachelors degree in Social Science in Public Administration from University of Dhaka. He also has a Masters of Social Science degree in Public Administration from the same university.
There is a primary school in Shamser Nagar which is right beside Rabidas' Jagoron Office. In this office, Rabidas arranges free computer classes for the children, teenagers and the youth of the tea working community. These children attend the computer classes every day after school.
Rabidas has devoted his life to ensure a better future for these children. After his graduation, he worked at Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) as Community Justice Fellow and also worked at Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He could have chosen a better life with a preferable job in Dhaka, but he decided to go back to his people and fight for their rights. He provides free human rights defender training to the youth of the tea gardens who aim to protect human rights of the tea community.
Every year, he arranges an event for the students of tea gardens who have attained brilliant results in their PSC and JSC exams. These students are awarded with crests and prizes. Along with this, he provides free academic coaching for the students of his community. He arranges free university admission coaching and motivational workshops for the students as well.
With each passing day, Rabidas hopes to build a brighter future for his community. Through the “Illiteracy Free Tea Garden Campaign”, he hopes to eradicate illiteracy from tea gardens. It is a matter of pride now that five tea gardens out of 167 have been declared as illiteracy-free. In addition, Rabidas raises awareness regarding AIDS, child marriages, family planning, and other social issues among the tea community.
He encourages tea workers to meditate with him every evening. He believes through medication, these workers' mental health will be improved. Besides that, Rabidas has a cultural team that regularly arranges drama productions to create awareness about health, education, the ills of drug addiction, and other issues that demand social attention.
Furthermore, Rabidas arranges programmes for the freedom fighters in the community who the Government does not recognise. There are currently 601 freedom fighters in the community who are yet to receive recognition and other facilities.
The tea workers are his main source of encouragement, claims Rabidas. “Since I am a child of this community, I feel happy in fighting for their rights. I have been watching their misery from a young age,“ says Rabidas. “Since then, I have always wanted to work for this community's progress. When I am in Dhaka, my mind is always here in these gardens, thinking about different movements to establish their rights.”
Rabidas says that the biggest challenge of working in this area has been dealing with the authority and owners of tea gardens. He believes that authorities keep suppressing the community for their own gains. He has even been threatened multiple times. However, the support of his community keeps him going.
Various organisations have acknowledged Rabidas for his tremendous contribution in bettering the lives of people of a marginalised community. He was honoured with the Joy Bangla Youth Award in May 2015, for his contribution in developing the human rights situation of the tea community. He has received this award from Sajeed Wazed Joy, ICT advisor to Prime Minister and Zunaid Ahmed Palak, State Minister of Post, Telecommunication and ICT.
Still, Rabidas believes he has a long way to go. He adds, “I request the Government and authorities to come forward in solving our problems. I want the workers to attain their proper rights. The workers' wages should be at least 250 takas per day.”.
But, most importantly, he wants proper education facilities for his people. If the national budget includes the tea community, a great deal of their difficulties can be resolved. Arrangements for scholarships as well as more primary and secondary schools inside the tea gardens can transform the conditions of this community. Rabidas thinks there should be some form of commission or ministry to solve the problems inside the tea gardens.
Rabidas has envisioned a future not only for his community but also for himself. He hopes to live a peaceful life, which is only possible if the people of his community are living better lives. He says, “I hope the youth that I am training, feel as inspired as I am to serve this community. I dream of a future where the problems of tea gardens will be solved. This will give me some peace of mind.”
Needless to say, from humble beginnings to his accomplishments now, the ambitions that Rabidas holds make everyone hope for a better future. Growing up in the community that he fights for now helps him approach the issues in an empathetic way.
With ambitious people like Rabidas, we can hope for a new generation of tea workers who will not be exploited, and become part of the larger community.