Date: Jan 14, 2016
Despite frequent glowing media stories about India shining, digitization and IT-enabled cities which are true and show progress in many ways, there still continues to be a ferocious underbelly which encompasses many women workers who have to earn a living to support their families. In Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state, women who are desperate to earn an income, resort to participating in the informal sector, rolling out “Beedi (biri)”, or hand rolled cigarettes. They earn a bare bones daily income with earnings in the range of Rupees 100 – 130 per day which is approximately $2/day. These earnings are highly dependent on the quantum of work they can successfully procure. There are days when they cannot find work which exacerbates life considerably for them and their families.
Mumtaz, a beedi worker from Rae Bareilly aged 43, has worked in the Beedi industry, and she describes their current living pattern as “next to hell.” Every day, she rolls hundreds of little cigarettes known as ‘Beedi’. She is paid Rs. 50 per thousand beedis rolled which she accomplishes in two days. Yet, at the time of final payment to the workers, around 30% of their payment is deducted on account of non-conforming products. This story is true for all the workers in Rae Bareilly. The work is monotonous and pays barely enough for their basic necessities, but worst of all, it is hazardous to their own health and also to the health of those around them.