Murshidabad is situated on the eastern banks of the Ganges river and shares a 150 km-long porous border with Bangladesh which is notoriously crime-prone for smuggling, human trafficking & prostitution.
Once it was an important centre of the silk trade but presently, it
is India's largest centre for rolling beedi where almost all young girls
roll beedi (hand-rolled cigarette) from their homes, involving a
violation of fundamental rights & freedoms.
Due to the changing course of the Ganges, there is a constant loss of
agricultural land causing severe erosion to over two million people.
One of the major reasons why the beedi industry flourished decades ago.
It has a population of over 7 million where 75% depends on beedi.
About 90% workforce constitutes of women & girls who roll beedies
from the premises of their homes from an age of 5. Girls go on to roll
1000 sticks of beedi, rocking back & forth for 12–14 hours a day to
earn a partial sum of less than 2 dollars.
According to NFHS-4 (2015-16), the Murshidabad district records the
highest number of child marriages in India with 39.9%. "Demand in the
matrimonial market depends on the speed & accuracy of rolling and
education has no place".
Girls absorb high doses of nicotine through their fingertips &
end up inhaling tobacco dust which causes tuberculosis, asthma, anaemia,
eye infections, gynaecological & respiratory problems.
Back pain & spondylitis is common due to sitting several hours at
a stretch in the same position. They can't afford treatment in private
hospitals & hide their diseases due to slander in the society &
continues to roll which makes even worse.
Currently, India is the second-largest tobacco consumer &
third-largest tobacco producer in the world. Out of 20 million beedi
workers in India, 80% are females.
Each year around 600,000 people's deaths are tied to beedies.
Beedi/pan sectors employ most of India's 12.66 million child workers. Of
India's total tobacco consumption, 53% is in the form of beedies.
I find the rapid rise of beedi culture disturbing & that’s what drives much of my research & photography.