Sep 2, 2016

Rolling Down their Health Concerns with Beedis

By Dinbandhu Vats 

Jarina Bibi wife of Mohammad Nasim has been residing in Chandan Gauda Village in Banka district, Jamui. She has been rolling beedi for last 25 years despite eyes problem and permanent bent on her right thumb. Lack of livelihood options and responsibility of running home forced them to continue this profession even now. A number of TB patents have been increasing in her village. Coughing, backache, eye and wrist problem is very common among the beedi workers. Around 2 lakhs beedi workers in Jamui, Banka and Deoghar districts of Bihar and Jharkhand live a life of misery. They are constantly handling hazardous substances exposing themselves to the risks of diseases like TB, asthma, lung, skin, spinal problems, eye problem etc. They claimed their fingers become senseless after working five to six hours. Several women of this village have shown ganglion in their fingers. Even their small children, in some cases newborns, are exposed to tobacco.  Most women work with infants on their lap who are continuously exposed to tobacco dust, fumes and other harmful substances. The small hands of children are not holding books and pencil, they are rolling beedi’s with their mothers after returning from school.

Despite this fact, beedi workers are desperately poor, with no access to any social security benefits. They are underpaid regardless of the hard work. Rate of rolling tendu leaves vary between 70-90 Rs per 1000 beedis.  However, usually a woman can roll 500 Beedis at max after five hours constant work fetching 35-45 Rs per day. Beedi workers are listed in the schedules of the Minimum Wages Act 1948, which do not list most other home-based activities. They are also entitled to health insurance, maternity benefits and housing assistance.

But the beedi industry is male-dominated, contributing to economic exploitation of women. Contractors supply beedi-rollers with poor quality tendu leaves and then reject beedis that are ‘deemed poor’ in quality. They end up taking the beedis without paying for them. Entire households that rely heavily on beedi production for their survival are forced into debt with beedi contractors when raw material is scarce and has to be bought in the open market at higher prices. This leads to beedi company middlemen gaining financial control over the workers. However Madina Khatun expressed her concerns over lack of government facilities. She said whenever beedi workers visited Beedi hospital at Jasidih under Deoghar district Jharkhand, they were denied any treatment. There is no any special hospital for Beedi workers in Banka district. Beedi workers never enjoy the benefits of insurance cover or other government aid or facilities.  Bihar Government had claimed to issue identity card to Beedi workers and construction of house, but none these beedi workers avail any facility.
Pairvi along with Lok Vikas Sansthan, Jamui highlighted the problems of beedi workers. Their main concerns include – identity as a worker so that they can avail the benefits given by government to them, hazardous nature of the work and their demand to safer and more profitable livelihood options. Beedi workers need to be sensitized about their rights that would help them to demand their rights.


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