Images of India: Bidi workers’ bundle of miseries rolls on…

beedi_20042015Young helpers hunch over baskets filled with tobacco flakes and dried leaves, trying to roll a thousand dirt-cheap cigarettes every day for Rs.70 a day, a little over a dollar, for 12 hours of toil hand-rolling the bidis. Up to 90 per cent of the roughly 5.5 million bidi rollers are female with a quarter being children. Around 70 million Indians smoke the hand-rolled bidis, which are nimbly bound together with khaki-coloured tendu leaves and cotton thread. The bidis outsell their filtered, paper-bound rivals by eight to one, giving the industry’s bosses financial and political clout that critics say accounts for the recent shelving of plans for larger health warnings on packets. Up to 900,000 Indians die every year from causes related to tobacco use and that figure could reach 1.5 million by the end of the decade. While a packet of 20 normal cigarettes can cost in excess of Rs.150, a bundle of 15 bidis can sell for as little as Rs.5 , their price kept low by favourable tax rates.