Labor advocates want to improve the pay and working conditions of India’s bidi cigarette rollers, reports DW.
Bidis are often hand-rolled by women in India as a way to make ends meet, but they are paid low wages—as low as INR100 ($1.35) per 1,000 bidis. According to activists, they also face health hazards, as breathing in the chemicals used in bidis can cause serious health issues, such as back pain, infertility and blindness.
Children of bidi rollers also often become ill as they sit with their mothers while they work, inhaling the dangerous chemicals.
Bidi workers in India are entitled to a state subsidy of INR20,000 ($272.78), but many women are unaware of this benefit.
During the coronavirus-related lockdowns and closures, many girls turned to bidi rolling. This may change, however, according to Niharul Islam, a local activist and poet, if the government continues schemes to improve the livelihood of young women.
“Under the ‘Kanyashree Prakalpa’ scheme, girls receive an annual scholarship and a one-time grant of 25,000 Indian rupees,” he said. “This has motivated many parents to keep their girls in school and not push them into the dangerous profession of bidi rolling.”