DIBRUGARH, June 1 - A huge commotion broke out in Khowang tea estate after the results of the HSLC examinations were declared yesterday. Hundreds of on-duty tea leaves pluckers were cheering and rushing to hug one Pascalina Kerketta, a fellow worker of the plantation.
Pascalina was still plucking when results were declared. When women workers surrounded her to congratulate her, she realized she had cleared the HSLC exams, she had been longing for. Tears of joy rolled her cheeks as she was feted and encouraged by other workers, she narrated. What division she secured was not an issue for her, given the situation she is facing.
It was penury that had driven the school going minor girl to toil in the tea garden to support her family. She lost her father Edward Kerketta in 2006 and therefore, her mother Naimi Kerketta had decided that she must join work to help her provide and educate other two children. Another reason for asking her join the plantation work was to hold on to the regularized job of her passed away father, according to the family members.
Going by the family�s decision, she dropped out of class VI to enrol herself as a worker in the plantations in 2010. She toiled like any other worker in the garden amid torrential rain and under scorching sunshine. Being the youngest among the workers, she was supported and loved by all others.
Although Pascalina turned out to be a major support to the family, her mother Naimi Kerketta was in a disturbed state. Her mother failed to understand if she was wise in persuading her daughter to give up studies. After some years had passed, she turned at her daughter to ask her join school again. �I regretted my decision and asked her to continue her studies,� the mother said.
Pascalina, who was also feeling guilty for dropping out, was now in crossroads. �I did not want to leave the permanent job because I knew it would be difficult for my mother to support all of us. Since I feared losing the family seat (permanent job) and at the same time wanted to study further, I joined class VII in Adarsha Jatiya Vidyalaya, Moran in 2012 and continued to work in the tea gardens,� she said.
She hardly attended classes as she could not skip her work in the tea estate. Her brother Dominic Savio, a BA student was helping her whenever she studied at home. She wrote her annual exams in between plucking and pruning in the garden. Her grandmother used to replace her when she was in school. She also has a younger sister, who is in class IX. �I studied during the little time I could save between household chores and plucking. My brother and other students of the neighbourhood were also very helpful to me. I managed to pass in third division,� she said.
�Pascalina is a living example for us and our children,� Zina Kujur, one of the pluckers said. Pascalina has said that although she has decided to study further, �I cannot sacrifice the job owing to compulsion.�
It needs to be mentioned here that academic careers of several enthusiastic students in the plantations get ruined almost every year, especially when the bread earner of the family dies. Family members are left with no alternative but to engage their siblings.
Khowang tea estate owned by the Andrew Yule is one of the tea gardens where large numbers of children of the plantation workers pass High School Leaving Certificate examinations every year. Over the years, the tea estate has produced engineer, doctor, lawyer, state football players, air hostess, priest, nun, teachers, beauticians, news anchor and technicians among others from among the workers� family members. There are more than hundred college going students in the tea garden.
Pascalina is one among several working youths who has shown the zeal to study further but fail to attract attention of the local management and state government.