Calcutta: Susheela, 46 years old from Tamil Nadu Tirunelveli district lives on beedi. She’s been doing it since she was 14. When she was 21, she got married and moved to Mumbai with her husband. After a few years, when she was a mother of two, her husband was killed by looters. She returned with a 5 year old son and a 2 month old daughter. Her in-laws took her husband’s shop to Mumbai in exchange for a small piece of land in Tirunelveli. She ended up with next to nothing. But with two young children, she couldn’t go out to work. Susheela started riding again beedis to live. Now his son is an engineer and his daughter got a bachelor’s degree in physics and wants to do a B.Ed. Susheela even took out a loan and also built a house on her land, with everything she earned as a roll of beedi.

The situation of Bhagyavati, another beedi roller, was not good either, when she took up this profession. The 48-year-old mother of two is a resident of Thach Nallur, a small village in Tamil Nadu, where garbage from all over the district is dumped, causing health problems for the children in this village.

Contaminated air and water make the place unsanitary for the people who live there. This caused many disabilities in people, including two of Bhagyavati’s sons.

Her husband, an alcoholic, was later diagnosed with HIV. He passed away, leaving behind two disabled children. Bhagyavati did not even receive a widow’s pension either.

Rasul Beevi, 62, and his daughter Inul Jaria, 38, are from Nelapallya, Tirunelveli have a similar story.

Rasul is a 4th generation and his daughter Inul is a 5th generation Beedi rider in her family.

The house operates with the salary of Rasul and her husband. They also supported their husbands during the pandemic with the money they had saved. She also paid for the renovation of her house on her own from the contingency fund given to her by the beedi laminating company, for which she worked.

The girl also pointed out that they love to ride beedis because of the freedom to do the job from home and at a time when they want to work. She had applied for the scholarship for her children, which unfortunately had not come for two years, and had to use the money she had saved by rolling beedis to complete her child’s education.

Susheela | Courtesy: Lack of Alternative Jobs for Women Beedi Rollers

Chandralekha, from Venkateshpuram, has a unique story to share. She is an IT engineer by profession and worked in a company in Tirunelveli as a Quality Controller. But because of the Covid-19 lockdown, she had to quit her job and work full time as a beedi roller. His parents and two of his siblings live together in their village and they are all committed to rolling beedis. They collectively earn around 20,000 rupees each month. Chandralekha and her sisters are also preparing for exams for government jobs and have made it clear that she will continue to work Beedi part-time even after finding another job. She and her siblings have been doing it ever since they were 15 years old. She is the fourth generation of beedi rollers in her family.

These women are among twenty people whose lives have been studied by two researchers Vibha Vasuki and Dr Siva Prasad Rambhatla. The two were commissioned to conduct the study by the Mysore Beedi Mazdoor association.

Twenty women are among beedi crore workers in India (including organized and unorganized beedi sectors). Women workers make up 90 to 95 percent of the Beedi industry. Beedi workers are also considered to be the most marginalized.

The researchers mention, however, that due to the constraints of Covid-19, they were unable to meet two other women or visit two neighborhoods, Tirunelveli and Mangalore.

And added that they have to analyse National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), Central Statistics Office (CSO), Government of India – the Annual Survey of Industries (ASI) and other secondary data available in their long 90-page study, titled — Lack of Alternate Employment for Women Beedi Roller skate.

Highest paying GST industry – 28 percent

After the introduction of the GST (goods and services tax), beedis attracted a tax of 28 percent, i.e. the highest rate of GST, because beedi was classified as a good ” incapacity ”.

Ironically, from the fiscal year (2017-18), it has not made any allocation of funds for the beedi social fund after 2017-18, since the implementation of the GST.

Contributes Rs 25 billion each year to the GDP

Beedi is widely consumed nationwide. 10.4 billion packages were sold in 2017-2018 alone, increasing Rs. 156 billion and generating a turnover of Rs. 25 billion to the government. An adult smoker consumes about 93 beedis per month on average, spending Rs 284 per month for the year 2016-2017. This has increased by Rs. 191 since 2009-2010.13 States like Rajasthan, Assam, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu were among the highest taxed states in the country. Beedi generated about 12% of the total revenue generated by the tobacco industry in 1996.

Besides the direct beedi workers, the industry also provided work for people indirectly involved in the production of raw materials such as tendu sheets (used to wrap beedi). About 6 million people in agriculture, 20 million people in agricultural work and about 4 million in leaf picking are employed by industry as studied by TARI (Thought Arbitrage Research Institute).

cotpa amendment bill 2020 women beedi rolls workers tobacco products
Tribal women picking up the tense patta | Courtesy: humanitiesacrossborders.org

COTPA (Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act) Amendment to Bill 2020

The COTPA 2020 amendment bill contains clauses that restrict the sale of beedi, and retailers engaged in the beedi trade would need to obtain a license to do so. Brand restriction, ban on the sale of beedis in bulk, printing of the date of manufacture among other things, owners and union leaders believe this will reduce the sale of beedis and lead to the forced shutdown of the industry which will eventually end up being causing many people to lose their jobs.

What respondents say about the 2020 COTPA amending bill

When asked inul for their thoughts on the government’s decision to make changes to beedi’s rolling industry, she replied, “Why do you want to take this plant out and plant it somewhere else, instead? to simply water the plants at the current location? She also said if this industry closed they couldn’t start over because her whole life she’s been riding beedis.

Rasul also said: “I have not encountered any major problem in life because of job security and the money made by rolling the bedi”. And if the industry closes, my whole family will stay home and have nothing to do

While Bhagyavati mentioned that, if the government is ready to train her for an alternative career, she will do so because she has to take care of her family no matter what. The 48-year-old says she can do her best to adjust, but in the end, if she can’t, it’s up to the Almighty Himself to save her family.

cotpa amendment bill 2020 women beedi rolls workers tobacco products
Safety clinic for Beedi workers in Kannur Kerala by Re Bharatgas Dharmadom (file photo) | Courtesy of: @ bpclmangaluru / Twitter

What union leaders and industry owners have to say

“The government only announced the COTPA amendments but did not provide a solution to all the problems that will arise after the industry begins to deteriorate. Most women in the industry know only one skill to survive, and that is beedi job. They supported their families on the wages earned by beedi work, they got scholarships and other benefits by continuing beedis. More beedi the workers educated their children who then went on to work in fields such as engineering, police and other departments. If the industry stops, how can the children of beedi do workers afford education? People can kill themselves because they have no other way to make ends meet, ”said Bharati Bolar, secretary of the Mangalore Beedi Rollers association.

Bimal Desai, owner of Desai Brothers Limited, suggested that the government make the changes in phases, not drastically. Let people adjust to the new changes. If the Beedi industry is banned, illegal sales of tobacco products will increase as people smoke out of habit. People will lose their jobs and many families will find it difficult to function even normally. Much of Telangana depends on the beedi industry and around 700,000 jobs will be lost.

“If sales decline, factories could end up closing and all employees will lose their jobs. Since women are not trained in other skills, it will become difficult for them to make ends meet, ”said Sudhir Shankar Sable of Sable Waghire and Company Limited.

Want higher wages and more available work than alternative occupations

The two researchers claimed in the study that the government’s angry attitude towards the transition of beedi workers to alternative livelihoods is alarming. The government must recognize the urgency of the situation and implement programs on a larger scale. Until such a transition is made possible, he must ensure that beedi workers receive their wages and benefits under the laws now applicable.

The study reads: “Numerous studies have repeatedly stated that there is a willingness among most female beedi workers to move on to other occupations if given the opportunity. However, when we spoke to the participants, we noticed that they were mostly unwilling to change professions, while they wanted to stay in the industry because of the convenience, they wanted to be paid wages. higher and more work available to them.

He added: “We asked the participants if they had ever been trained by the government or any other organization to develop skills and move on to another career and they said they had never received any training. While some of them have shown a willingness to explore other sources of employment, most of them are anchored in their habits and want to stick to the profession they have mastered for decades ”,

“While there are to be labor and wage reforms that need to be introduced in the Beedi industry, shutting down the industry through the COTPA 2020 Amendment Bill will be a disaster for millions of people. people with no other skills or jobs, ”the study adds.