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Beedi Making

Photographer: Harish Tyagi


‘Beedis’ are thin hand-rolled Indian cigarettes filled with tobacco flake, usually wrapped in leaves from a tendu tree. Beedi making is entirely a manual process that involves skills such as rolling, sorting, baking, labelling and packing. Most of the labor-intensive work is performed sitting crossed legged, which can in the long term cause backache, joint pains and arthritis for the workers.


Hundreds of thousands of workers in India’s beedi Industry are allegedly working long hours in illegal factories and homes, akin to sweatshops with unfair wages and dangerous working conditions. Beedi rollers don’t wear protective clothing as gloves or masks so they are unprotected from the tobacco dust absorbed through their skin and by inhaling the harmful particles which could cause respiratory problems.


The Labor Ministry of India found the incidence of bronchial asthma and tuberculosis to be higher among beedi workers than any other group in the Indian population. Many deaths have been reported over the past years owing to respiratory and cardiac ailments despite the government building hospitals exclusively for the beedi workers.


Overall, there are close to five million beedi workers in India. However still an unorganized sector despite the efforts from the government for its regulation. All beedi workers should have an ID card to receive various welfare benefits. The government has issued identity cards to two million workers in Madhya Pradesh but only 200,000 are registered.