Bidi (a leaf-rolled cigar made of coarse tobacco) industry is one of the largest cottage industries in India. India ranks 4-5th in tobacco consumption in the world and is also one of the leading exporters. A large part of the bidi industry is largely unregulated and home-based, making it difficult to regulate the working conditions and implement welfare laws. There are thousands of registered and unregistered bidi manufacturers who provide employment to about 4.4 million full time workers and another 4 million in bidi industry related jobs. More than 4.5million workers are engaged in the ‘unorganized’ home-based sector of this industry.

According to recent studies, 76 per cent of bidi rollers earn a paltry Rs. 33 per thousand bidis rolled, though it takes at least 12 hours, which is much below the minimum wage fixed by the government. The bidi industrialists very cleverly evade the provisions specified under the labour laws – the Child Labour Act 1986 and Bonded Labour System (Abolition Act 1976) by classifying the work as home-based, door-step employment.

It is estimated that there are about 225,000 children engaged in bidi making. Children help their mothers, fathers and siblings with bidi rolling. They work all day with no breaks or holidays. On school days they roll bidis before reaching school and again continue after returning, without any wages. Indian government has developed polices aimed at monitoring working conditions and providing social security benefits for the welfare of bidi workers, but the reality is that the policies have done little to improve the working conditions and livelihood of bid workers. The government and trade union leaders cannot protect individuals, especially children from being forced into labour when parents cannot repay loan and run a family. The government estimates that only about 15 per cent bidi workers do not have ID cards while the trade unions argue that majority of the workers do not have ID cards..The standard practice of labour officials is to issue an ID card to only one member of the family even when other members of the family also roll bidi.

Unfortunately, although there is nation wide anti-tobacco campaign, the commercial importance of this industry can never be undermined due to revenue earning and employment generation capacity of the crop. Tobacco is a principal cash crop and more than 6 million people are engaged in the farming, rolling, packaging grading, manufacturing, distribution and other related activities. And there is no economically viable alternative crop which is as remunerative as tobacco to farmers. Bidi rollers are constantly exposed to tobacco dust and hazardous chemicals. They experience exacerbation of tuberculosis, asthma, anaemia, giddiness, postural and eye problems, and gynecological difficulties. When bidis are stored in the house, food spoils quicker and family members experience nausea and headaches.

But in West Bengal, the only hospital established government for bidi workers at Dhulian in Murshidabad is far from their villages where they reside. Many workers say they cannot afford to take so much time off from their work to travel to the hospital.  For them, earning their daily bread is more important than spending time in hospital.

1

Raja Ul (8) rolls bidis  at Manoharpur village, Hasnabad, 108 km north of Kolkata.

2

Rupali Acharya (11) rolls bidis at Manoharpur village, Hasnabad, 108 km north of Kolkata.

3

Kalpana Khatoon (7) carries a bag containing tobacco as she goes to work along with Reja Ul and others at Kathakali village, in Hingalgang, 96 km north of Kolkata.

4

Child labourers submit rolled bidis to a factory contractor at Sulitala village, Murshidabad, 350 km north of Kolkata.

7

Child labourers submit rolled bidis to a factory contractor at Sulitala village, Murshidabad, 350 km north of Kolkata.

8

Bilkis Banu (6), a tuberculosis patient, ties a bidi as he works along with Tumpa Bibi (16) at Kathakali village, Hingalgang, 96 km north of Kolkata. Bilkis goes to school.

9

Sahiful Islam (8) sleeps after counting bidi at Ranjitpur village, Raghunathgang, 250 km north of Kolkata.

10

Child labourers make bidi at Boltala, Hasnabad, 108 km north of Kolkata.

11

Child labourers carry Tendu leaves and raw tobacco in a boat at Barunhat Bazar, Hasnabad, 108 km north of Kolkata.

12

Child bidi workers go to school at Ghanashyampur village, Dhulian, Murshidabad, 350 km north of Kolkata.

13

Santu (15) smokes bidi as he works in brick factory at Ghanashyampur village, Murshidabad, 350 km north of Kolkata. He also works in a bidi factory.

14

Sahina Parveen (15), a tuberculosis affected child labourer, looks at Ganeshpur, Murshidabad, 350 km north of Kolkata. She had a blood clot in her left eye ball as she was vomiting blood.

15

Kavirul Hak (14), a tuberculosis patient, lies on his bed at Pashim Debidaspur, Samsargang, Dhulian, Murshidabad, 350 km north of Kolkata . Kavirul was an active bidi worker.

19

Mameda Khatoon (16) cries due to bronchial pain as her mother Firoja Beba tries to give comfort to her at Ranjitpur, Murshidabad, 375 km north of Kolkata.

20

Ranu Khatoon (16), a tuberculosis affected child labourer, looks through an x-ray plate at Sahajadpur, Murshidabad, 375 km north of Kolkata.

 

Bio:

Sucheta Das is aphotographer based out of Kolkata. She had attended workshops by Magnum photographers Raghu Rai and Steve Mccurry. She had worked in Reuters International news agency for 5 years. She also worked as a staff photographer in Gulf News, Dubai and is now working for Associated Press (AP).  Her pictures have appeared in national and international dailies and magazines including Time, Washington Post, National Geographic( online), Newsweek, Herald Tribune, Sipa Press, Private magazine and others.

http://suchetadas.com

 

Share →
  • shahidul alam

    Congratulations Sucheta. Keep going. Shahidul

  • feel proud of you

  • Abhijit Chakraborty

    Touchy and very much intense. Good Job.

  • Jayita Roy

    Wonderful photography!

  • SBR

    Feel it happening in front of my eyes, extremely well made documentary.