Thè Kahata – Giving Voice to the Untold Stories of Sri Lanka’s Plantation Sector
Sri Lanka takes pride in her tea industry, and for many years the name Ceylon was synonymous with tea. However, behind the celebratory rhetoric and good wishes was and still continues to be the stark reality of the living conditions of the people who have plucked the “gold” of Sri Lanka for over a century.
It is sad but true that in certain cases living conditions have not changed for over a hundred years and that wages lag far behind what is adequate and just. For Sri Lanka to move ahead as a country made up of many peoples and in which there is Unity in Diversity, serious attention should and must be paid to the living conditions of the workers on estates.
At the Centre for Policy Alternatives, we are proud and yet sad that we had to launch an initiative to get postal addresses for some 3,000 workers. Apart from the practical issue of being able to receive mail for example on time and not suffer the consequences of delay, the dignity of having an address is surely a right of every Sri Lankan citizen. We are proud too, to have involved the young people of the community in this exhibition. Who better to understand and record for posterity the daily reality of life on the tea estates? The talent of the youth who participated must be commended and we hope that it will be nurtured and nourished in the future. Moreover, we sincerely hope that the exhibition will spark off a much needed conversation and spur political commitment to improve the lives of the community and that our opinion and decision makers will place human dignity above else as the motivating force of their efforts. Avishai Margalit wrote about a decent society and a civilized society – one in which institutions do not humiliate citizens and one in which citizens do not humiliate each other. We should bear this in mind in respect of developing the conditions on the estates and indeed in whatever endeavor we embark upon to make our land united and prosperous.
Thè Kahata Photojournal and virtual exhibition
of photography by members of the Up Country Tamil community bears witness to the everyday hardships and privation of their lives.
This project aims to strengthen the voice of plantation communities presenting an alternative narrative of the plantation sector through the media of creative photovoice. These creations are to be presented to relevant stakeholders supporting engagement in advocacy for social justice and equality. The initiative utilizes photography as a tool of assessment that focuses on highlighting the narratives of the plantation sector through visual images captured by selected skilled youth belonging to plantation families who have the least access to develop knowledge and technical skills on photography. In addition, the endeavor will provide an eye-opening opportunity for youth to sharpen their hidden talents and discover their passion for creative expressions and introduces an innovative medium for communicating their issues. Field visits and linkages they develop during photo shooting sessions will further deepen their understanding of historical roots they belong to and thereby inculcate a sense of responsibility, empathy and to recognize themselves as dignified citizens of the country through careful civic engagement with one’s own community. By extension, they will also gain opportunities to learn how to incorporate ethical practices/ code of conduct need to be followed in the process of creating successful photo voices.
The Teh Kahata Exhibition series is part of CPAs ongoing work to highlight the injustices meted to plantation sector communities during 150 years of Ceylon tea.
View the full project in English here: