The tea plantations were the earliest commercial enterprise established by private British capital in the Assam Valley during the nineteenth century. They grew spectacularly during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, and by the end of colonial rule, Assam employed nearly half a million laborers on more than three hundred thousand acres under the monopolistic control of the tea companies. By the 1870s tens of thousands of acres of jungle and wastelands had been converted into private estates, inhabited by laborers, Indian clerical staff, and British managers.

This impressive expansion of the tea industry in Assam was made possible by the mobilization of labor from among the lower-caste, aboriginal, and tribal agrarian communities from Bihar, Bengal, and Orissa who were employed under the indenture system set up under state legislation. The process of labor mobilization for the Assam tea plantations...

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