Assam’s tea industry has been a male-dominated domain. So, when Apeejay Tea appointed Manju Baruah, 43, as the first lady manager in their tea garden, it was a huge deal. Baruah is the first woman to acquire the post which has been reigned by men till date. It had been nearly two centuries since the British setup tea estates in the region in the 1830s and men are dominating the business. Manji has been posted as a manager at the Hilika Tea Estate in Tinsukia district.

“Earlier, they used to call me memsahab but now it’s bada madam. Sometimes everyone calls me Sir and I don’t mind,” Baruah told The Telegraph.

The mother of an 11-year-old daughter, Baruah joined the company as a trainee welfare officer in 2000. Till then no women had ever joined in and it was a revolutionary decision to hire women for this post. “Since it is a labour-intensive industry, it is equally challenging for both male and female workers,” Baruah said, adding that she is “an outgoing girl. I was very engaged with workers and my talent, sincerity and hard work helped me get this far.”

The garden has around 2,500 workers. Now addressed as ‘bada madam’, Baruah travels across the 633-hectare tea estate on a motorbike to carry out her duties every day. “A woman manager is certainly a disruption of the traditional management structure in a tea garden, but it’s a disruption of a good kind,” she said to TOI.

READ: Avantika Jalan, on Sustainable Management of her Family’s Tea Estate

Baruah has also admitted that in other different gardens the male workers are valued more and that she has had faced difficult situations. “If I am fair, right and just to my workers, I need not be afraid,” she said.

“Assam tea industry needs committed people who can do everything to retain the glory of our heritage drink despite various challenges,” she believes.

Read More Stories By Ria Das

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