Darjeeling: a story of globalisation

Darjeeling: a story of globalisation‘ documents the intercontinental industry surrounding Darjeeling tea, using a linear narrative to study the growth, production, and sale of this global product. This project aims to highlight current concerns of rapid urbanisation and tourism in Darjeeling. It endeavours to demonstrate globalisation as a consequence of modernity, and incorporates an anthropological investigation into the lives of plantation workers.

 

Darjeeling’s history is inextricably tied to that of imperial Britain. In 1835 Britain started to develop the tiny Himalayan village of Darjeeling into a commercial trade centre, transforming its population of roughly 100 into 10,000 by 1850. Newly constructed plantations demanded an expansion in workforce, resulting in Nepalese labourers being brought to Darjeeling by the British, enticed by promises of land and payment. Since the independence of India in 1947, Darjeeling has followed the precedent of commercial expansion set by the British, and now supports a population of 130,000, supplemented by a floating population of 350,000 (including domestic and international tourists). Darjeeling is commonly portrayed as a quaint ‘colonial’ mountain village; the reality is a stark contradiction of this depiction. The town is closer in size to a city, closely resembling a  ‘glorified slum’, with pollution and poverty common themes. Darjeeling: a story of globalisation documents the negative effects of rapid urbanisation and tourism within Darjeeling, and highlighting the lack of infrastructure to deal with these pressures.

 

Darjeeling: a story of globalisation engages with issues surrounding the global consumption of tea. The project’s linear narrative spans two continents, opening with tea planning in India, and closing with product sale by multinational corporations such as Tetley in the UK. It deals with contemporary issues surrounding global import and export, including the impact of international trading on global society. Darjeeling: a story of globalisation aims to make the audience question the effect on developing countries of goods consumption on a global scale, most notably how the richest countries that dominate world trade continue to profit at the expense of those developing. Further, the project looks at the environmental impacts of trade, at the inequality of wealth distribution illustrated by low wages and unsatisfactory living/working conditions, and the threat global corporations pose to local domestic industries. Additionally, the project aims to depict the dilution of indigenous culture and traditions, with the eventual result of cultural homogenization.

 

Finally, Darjeeling: a story of globalisation documents an anthropological investigation into the fetishization of female tea pluckers in Darjeeling, and attempts to challenge this contemporary issue. The Tea Board, attempting to enhance the outward authenticity of Darjeeling tea, portray their labourers as material aspects of the ‘tea experience’, and exploit them in advertising campaigns promoting fair-trade and equality. Darjeeling: a story of globalisation aims to deconstruct this widely publicised view, shedding light on the realities of inequality in the tea industry, and challenging the aestheticization of its labourers. In doing so, alludes to contemporary debates surrounding misleading visual representation and the virtue of fair-trade products.