Labor

Job Rolling Tobacco Sickens India's Women

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tuberculosis, bronchitis and cancer are common among the low-paid Indian women who sit rolling raw tobacco in dry tendu leaves to earn pocket change for the thousands of "beedis" they produce weekly.



SAMBALPUR, ODISHA, India (WOMENSENEWS)--Namita Bag was first diagnosed with tuberculosis 10 years ago, when she was just 15.

Doctors warned her that her condition was the result of seven years of rolling beedis, a job that entails placing raw tobacco in dry tendu leaves.

In the past decade she has been hospitalized three times.

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Now, at 25, she is a frequent face at the small dispensary for beedi workers in her village of Rengali, in Sambalpur district.

Her father, also a beedi roller, died from respiratory complications some years ago. But that didn't stop her from rolling beedis. In fact, her father's death left the family without his income and made any thoughts of leaving the work that much harder.

"I have to take care of my ailing mother and my four younger siblings so I cannot avoid this work," she says with a shrug.

Female beedi workers can expect to earn only between $4 or so a week for rolling between 3,500 and 4,000 beedis. Beedis are smoked like cigarettes but deliver more nicotine and tar. They accounted for 48 percent of Indian tobacco consumption in 2008.

Dr. S.N. Mohanty, a doctor working in a federal dispensary at Regali village, believes that ingesting tobacco also hurts reproductive health. "Although no survey has been done here on the health of women beedi workers, 80 to 85 percent of them are malnourished, experience frequent abortions and miscarriages and give birth to stillborn or low-birth weight babies."

Bilasini Bag, 35, another beedi worker, has suffered two miscarriages. She works with her 2-year-old son often lying on her lap.

"I know this tobacco dust is bad for my baby, but where can I leave him? He is already suffering from breathing problems," she says.

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