Royal Commission on Labour in India: Report(1929)||
Quite apart from the economic advantages which the development of the tea industry confers on India as a whole, we are satisfied that migration to Assam for work on the tea plantations deserves encouragement in the interests of labour. In any large scale migration, some immigrants are bound to find that they have made a change for the worse and, in the past especially, many must have regretted going to Assam. There is still considerable room for improvement in conditions generally; but for the great majority of the immigrants the change is for the better, and for some it is an avenue of escape from destitution and even servitude. We met no one familiar with conditions both in Assam and in the recruiting areas who wished to discourage migration. It is to be feared that some of the opponents of emigration into Assam were interested in preventing labour from strengthening its position in the recruiting areas. Having endeavored to examine the question from both ends, the source of the labour and its destination, we are satisfied that the labourers generally improve their condition by emigration. The better features of existence on the gardens are many, and there are none of the worse features that cannot be found, in an aggravated form, in some of the recruiting areas. Nor should the effect of migration on those left behind be overlooked. Attention has already been drawn to the question of the pressure of population in the Report of the Royal Commission on Agriculture, and we would merely remark again that the mobility of labour is the greatest safeguard against the continuance of depressed conditions in particular localities and perhaps the most effective means of breaking down the vicious systems of bond-service, to which reference was made in a previous chapter. Under the kamiauti system in parts of Bihar, and the vetti and khambari systems in the north of Madras (to mention two examples of practices which we understand are not confined to these localities), the labourer borrows money from a landlord under a contract to work until the debt is repaid. The debt tends to increase rather than to diminish, and the man, and sometimes his family, is bound for life. Serfs are even sold and mortgaged. Such systems have now no legal sanction, and in Bihar special legislation has been adopted in the endeavour to eradicate the abuse; but it continues to exist. It will be readily appreciated that serfs who can escape from such a system and agriculturalists oppressed in other ways are ready to go to Assam, and that there are those who are vigilant in the endeavour to prevent them and anxious to discredit Assam by any means in their power.