Durham University: Give India’s bidi cigarette rollers a voice, researchers say

India’s bidi cigarette workers need to be at the heart of discussions about finding alternatives to working in the tobacco industry.

A new study involving Durham University’s Department of Anthropology found bidi rollers would be more inclined to consider other work if they were involved in shaping the alternative employment available.

This would help create new jobs that provided workers with better conditions and suited their personal circumstances, the researchers said.

Hand-rolled leaf cigarettes
Bidi are hand-rolled leaf cigarettes and are the main way tobacco is smoked in India.

Ninety per cent of workers are women who largely work from home and earn a lower-than-average wage of approximately £1.50 (about 150 Indian rupees) for rolling up to 1,000 bidis each day.

Bidi production can cause a number of health issues for workers and their families caused by breathing in dust or poor posture. Children are also sometimes enlisted by bidi rollers to help meet targets.

The research found that despite awareness of the industry’s adverse effects, workers saw bidi rolling as convenient in the absence of other jobs that could fit around commitments such as cooking or childcare.

That’s why researchers say it’s hugely important for bidi rollers to be at the centre of discussions about alternative jobs that are less harmful and just as convenient.

Alternative sources of income
Community health volunteers used a questionnaire to interview 46 women involved in bidi rolling in two cities in the north of Tamil Nadu state, southern India.

Questionnaires were followed-up with focus groups and a panel of 11 bidi rollers also attended a workshop where the findings and possible alternatives to bidi rolling were discussed.

Alternative sources of income could include the production of masala spices or tie-dye fabrics where workers could continue to work at home while managing their other responsibilities, the study found.

Bidi rolling fits the remit of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, Article 17, which aims to provide economically viable alternative jobs to tobacco. India and the UK are both signatories to the Convention.

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