Kolkata: The cup that cheers is in big trouble in Darjeeling. For almost two weeks now, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha's bandh has meant no tea plucking in the 87 gardens in the hills that produce the world's finest teas.
Most tea workers say Gorkhaland first. But for the industry, disaster as its best leaves - called second flush - go down the drain. Almost 95 per cent second flush teas - which are the best quality of all - are exported and earn almost half the revenue the tea industry earns in a year.
Tea garden workers were on a two-day trade union strike on June 12 and 13 demanding higher daily wages when Morcha called its indefinite bandh from 13th. It is tough times for them as the practice in tea gardens is, no work, no pay and no rations. But workers say Gorkhaland first.
"We will die but not give up Gorkhaland. In the 1980s, they even had a bandh for 40 days. We are prepared for that," said a tea garden worker who did not wish to disclose his name. Another worker said, "Gorkhaland has to happen. Yes there are difficulties but we will have to bear it."
In 1986, Subhash Ghishing of the Gorkha Liberation National Front (GNLF) who launched the agitation for a separate state had called for a 40-day-long bandh.
While tea workers are willing to sacrifice everything for a separate state, for the tea industry in Darjeeling, the shut-down is a body blow.
According to Darjeeling Tea Association, 50,000 permanent, 25,000 part time and 25,000 seasonal workers or a total of about one lakh grow 10 lakh kilos of tea in Darjeeling each year. The industry's turnover is 400 crore rupees. Half that money comes from second flush tea.
Tea garden owners say they are losing money at the rate of 10 lakh rupees a day. But they are wary of speaking out, lest they offend the Morcha or Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Their only option as they watch the golden leaves rot is to pray for a miracle to end the bandh.