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Brewing in Parliament

If tea becomes our national drink, will the status of chai-wallahs improve? Santosh Kumar writes.

india Updated: Aug 16, 2012 22:09 IST

A parliamentary standing committee is making a 'strong' pitch to elevate the ordinary man's brew to the national drink. If it succeeds then chai will be on a par with national symbols such as the lotus and the Royal Bengal tiger. Chai deserves such a status. More than 85% of Indians relish it and its reach is almost 99% of the nation. India is the fourth largest tea exporter in the world, next only to Sri Lanka, Kenya and China.

However, the committee has not specified which variety of tea - Darjeeling, Assam, Munnar, Nilgiri mountains or Wayanad - will earn that coveted place. I am sure that all of them will vie for the honour if it boils down to a competition. And which one the nation will vote for is anybody's guess.

But some doubts linger. With the elevation of tea, what will be the status of chai-wallahs who dot every nook and corner of this country? Will they be allowed to have a share of the pie? Will the government provide them some incentives so that they will brew the stuff in keeping up with its new-found importance?

And what about the legendary 'chai, chai, garam chai' vendors who wake up over 30 million travellers daily on the Indian Railways spanning over 8,000 stations across the country? What will their status be? Will they get their due or be put behind bars for 'denigrating' the national symbol?

What will be the fate of the millions of tea plantation workers and their children who, after more than half a century of Independence, continue to be exploited by the owners of those gardens? Will they get a chance to improve their living standards?

Finally, how can we forget millions of Keralites/Malayalees who are nationally associated with vending tea to earn their livelihood? Didn't they say that Neil Armstrong met one when he landed on the moon? At the football grounds, they yell: Don't give the Mallu a corner, or he will set up a tea stall.

Will he be given that coveted corner once tea becomes India's national drink?

Santosh Kumar is a senior journalist

The views expressed by the author are personal