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Faruque Abdullah

Beedi industry has grown-up as an important business in Murshidabad district in the state of West Bengal. In this industry, women outnumber others. Women laborers engaged in beedi industry account for 72.4% of the whole women working force in Murshidabad and this percentage may increase as all of them are not always registered.

Women laborers are somehow forced to come to this industry. Beedi is made by rolling kendu leaves, after keeping tobacco-flakes inside the leaves and making the roll fixed by cotton threads. This is easily said than easily done.

To make beedi women are bound to take the raw-materials i.e. kendu leaves, tobacco-flakes, cotton threads, from the owners (contractors).

Murshidabad is a district far lagging behind others in all-out development. The poor men, here, go outside the state in search of livelihood. Therefore the responsibility of maintaining the family squirrely rest on women. In this economic liability they are forced to work in beedi industry. Women laborers get only rupees 80-100 making 1000 beedi per day and the middle man comes into fray to take their share in this meager income.

Women can make 600-700 beedi in spite of working 10 hours a day. Therefore she has to take help from the children of the household for making the magic number 1000.

A work that consumes almost entire household and engage almost 9-10 hours on a day give her only 80-100 rupees. This meager income is not sufficient for making both ends meet. They can’t have nutritious food, can’t have the medicine, and can’t have spacious room to sleep-in. Education of the children of these families is a dream not-fulfilled.

Over and above these women face the wrath of their husband if only can’t meet the number 1000. Ordeals of this women laborers do not end here. If beedis are not properly made i.e. upto the choice of the contractors, wage is cut and women get lesser amount along with it. There lies in-store the devastating diseases i.e. ‘skin ailments’, ‘ophthalmic’ diseases, psycho-neuro-logical diseases, and many others.

To extricate out these women laborers from this vicious cycle, there are many national and international laws, but these laws are rarely applied to uplift the fate of these hapless women laborers. There are countless NGOs in service of these laborers, but alas! There occurs no changes in their ordeals, and this is because they are unaware of their rights. Because their illiteracy and lack of skill they have to stick to these works. Murshidabad is a Muslim majority district, and lots and lots of disadvantages make them adhere to this work’s-hardships notwithstading.

There are many governmental schemes for the benefit of the poor laborers, but here also all the beedi laborers can’t avail themselves of these benefit. Because you have to be holders of identity card and getting an identity card requires some official ordeals and poor women laborer faces many difficulties to undergo these ordeals and it makes them adhere to this work’s-hardships, notwithstanding.

Sometimes it happens that a male member of a household gets the identity card but not the female members. And thus female members are denied the benefits.

Again owners of the business are also not interested about rights of the female laborers because if the female laborers get their due rights-the margin of their profit gets less.

There are many labor organizations, and beedi workers are also included in these organizations but here also female representation is either absent or nominal. The fate of these female laborers remains unchanged.

Jangipur sub-division in Murshidabad gets prominence in this industry. But beedi making goes on in every nook and corner of the district and where female workers hugely outnumbers male. But, irony is that though the government earns huge amount through the sweet of their brows, they themselves are left in the lurch. Their health, income, their families are ignored.

In spite of all the devastating demerits of their profession they still stick to it, but why? Why they don’t change their profession? What is societal or religious effect on their profession? It demands a deeper study.




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Post Author: Faruque Abdullah

Faruque Abdullah
Teacher, Researcher and Field Surveyor

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