Will it go up in smoke

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    Jan 30, 2018
    child used to have a persistent cough and cold in the hut; it has disappeared here Carton Of Cigarettes Price.

    Rasheeda Bhagat

    mother was a beedi worker and my three sisters were beedi workers. From childhood I been watching their sorry plight; call it TB, cancer, asthma, I seen it all. When my mother coughed up blood, it used to fill a vessel; she would always say these women require better and cleaner housing, recalls Narsayya Adam, a third-time CPI(M) MLA from Solapur city in Maharashtra.

    That was 40 years ago. But when he was first elected MLA in 1978, he took on the mission of organising and improving the lives of Solapur beedi workers. lived in small, cramped huts with no ventilation and open gutters. I dreamt of giving them good homes with better ventilation. The State and Central governments contributed Rs 5,000 each and the remaining came from the workers. they couldn repay the money they had borrowed and the interest piled up, says Adam, known as Master as he once worked as a teacher.

    After losing one term, he returned as MLA in 1990 and fought to get Rs 3 crore of interest waived for the beedi workers. more homes were needed, and I knew that if they borrow from banks, till their last breath they can repay the loan. But they did have some money in the beedi workers welfare scheme and said something for us

    Years went by as Adam worked in Maharashtra and Delhi to find a scheme in the day the beedi worker gets the key to the house she wouldn have debt on her head. But the scheme remained on paper despite the workers having a corpus of over Rs 3 crore. were disillusioned and in 1999, my enemies worked against me, the women said our money and the very labourers who had elected me defeated me. Pandhe, Chairman of Pandhe Constructions, approached him and said: is a challenge, and let do this together. The next day women came and said do whatever you want; we are prepared to go to jail but we want the homes

    This time the private constructor said he would build the 10,000 houses on 450 acres of land acquired by him, on a no-profit basis, on the workers homes. Developing a part of the area for commercial use would be his profit Marlboro Cigarette Types.

    But the money had to be raised for the Comrade Godutai Parulekar Mahila Bidi Kamgar Sahkari Housing Society 10,000 homes, each costing Rs 60,000, with the Central, State governments and the workers each contributing a third of the cost. Vajpayee Brands Of Cigarettes, the then Prime Minister, who was seated on one side asked what was happening. Pawar explained and he said: sanctioning the 10,000 houses. There is municipal water supply (the scheme costs Rs 9.26 crore) so they get running water, and a sub-station has been put up at a cost of Rs 4.5 crore to ensure power supply. We also provided space for a school (for 1,800 students)and 20 big godowns (sanctioned by the Prime Minister when he inaugurated the scheme) where beedi factories can send them tobacco and also collect the rolled beedis. This is Asia biggest low-cost group housing scheme and a presentation of the scheme was made at an ILO meet in Geneva.

    Pandhe adds the agreement was that the remaining space we would do commercial development such as shops, doctor clinics, etc, which we sell at market rates; that is our profit, plus the rising cost of land we had bought it in 2002 and land prices have gone up. Even the house that was built for Rs 60,000, today has a market value of Rs 1.5 lakh. Almost 4,000 women have moved in, and many of them tell him thanks to the cleaner and an open environment their health has improved. At one such godown about 100 women have gathered to give in the beedis they had made the previous day and collect the tobacco and leaves for the next day work. For the daily back-breaking task of rolling 1,000 beedis the women earn a paltry Rs 50-60. But they are happy enough with this work which they can do at home at their convenience. Mumtaz (25) has been rolling beedis for 13 years, her husband works in a hotel and makes about Rs 200 a day, and their collective income enables them to send their four children to a decent school.

    Unlike other beedi workers, she doesn want her only daughter to enter this vocation. want her to study well and get a job. She moved in here four months ago, and ever want to go back to our earlier home, but the distance is a problem in sending the children to school, she says.

    Jyothi has lived here for six months and finds that the health of her mother-in-law and two children has improved in the open and spacious place. Lakshmi, who has a one-year baby, and lost her husband when her child was only a month old, says, child used to have a persistent cough and cold in the hut; it has disappeared here. Even I used to fall sick quite often; that is gone. Adam smile is broader than hers as he listens to her!

    Most of the new houses have a TV set, and one house stands out from the rest. With two women rolling beedis and the two male members of the family well employed, they have redone the flooring and kitchen with glazed tiles, bought a colour TV, DVD and music player, repainted the house, and put up a nice garden.

    Distance, the drawback

    But clearly, the distance from the city centre is a drawback. Over 6,000 women have got the allotment done through lottery but are yet to shift as it costs Rs 14 to take the bus to town to collect the raw material and deliver the finished beedis. have arranged buses, but many women are not prepared to spend that money; they cannot afford it. But in April some more beedi makers have agreed to open outlets here, so more women will move. As it is, every day 10-15 women are moving into the new houses, says Adam.

    Bang next to his office in Solarpur city centre, where the Beedi Workers Society is located, are the narrow streets where the beedi workers small huts are located. Watching their smiling faces and listening to their confident voices you think they have the greatest job in the world. I think it is, says 73-year-old Narasamma. have been rolling beedis from the age of 8, when I used to get five annas for 1,000 beedis. My husband passed away when my three sons and daughter were young. I raised them on my income. They are all married and 14 of us three sons, three daughters-in-law and their seven children live here. When you ask the little girl what she wants to become when she grows up, her grandma intervenes: is the use of educating her? People like us don get jobs in fancy offices; for us beedis is our livelihood. But Archana wants to become a teacher.

    I waging a battle to get them below poverty line (BPL) cards; once they get those cards they will get 20 kg wheat and 15 kg rice every month. That will be a big help for beedi workers.

    He says 60 per cent of Solapur 65,000 beedi workers are Telugu-speaking, and there are many Muslim women too in this vocation.

    Pandhe adds that another 8,000 low-cost houses for beedi workers are in the pipeline, and he is acquiring 500 acres for the next phase. But material and building costs have gone up; each house will now cost Rs 1 lakh Marlboro Menthol Lights, and the houses will be ready in three years. Adam has got Central Government sanction of Rs 40,000 for each house, and is hopeful that soon the Maharashtra government will announce a matching grant. The remaining Rs 20,000 will come from the worker.

    Uncertain future All the women in Narasamma family are wearing solid gold chains and gold ear rings. So has the jewellery come from the dowry brought by her three sons?

    course not, says the feisty old woman, adding, didn take any dowry for my three sons, nor did I give any dowry for my daughter. This jewellery has come from the hard work we have put in over long years in rolling beedis Organic Cigarettes. Her daughter-in-law Lakshmi adds: my daughter gets a beedi card, nobody will demand dowry from us. When women earn, they feed their families and also save for a rainy day and buy gold jewellery. When men earn, they drink; this is not peculiar to Solapur, it is common all over the country. And our government wants them to drink; they facilitate men drinking by opening more cheap liquor shops. Why don they put such pictures on cigarette packets? But no, there they will only say smoking is bad for health. are made in big factories with machines; those don provide much employment. Beedis are rolled by poor women like us, but the government wants to punish us by discouraging beedi smoking; instead of encouraging liquor, the government slogan should be: bandh, beedi chaalu. (End liquor; continue with beedis.)

    Adds Narasamma. all, beedi smoking has been in Indian tradition for thousands of years. biggest question before us is the Anti-tobacco Bill of 2003 which aims to slowly kill this business. This is a 5,000-year old sanskriti; but if you put skulls and skeletons on the packet, how will people buy it? Our research shows that cigarette is much more harmful; smoking 20 beedis is like smoking one cigarette. women are asking me: have given us such good houses but these anti-smoking laws will sound the death knell for our work. So can you find us another vocation? I have told the Prime Minister, Labour Minister, our Chief Minister that once an industry closes, it is difficult to get employment for the affected. And getting work for 65,000 women is not easy. While garment or pappad making is an option, the market is already saturated and the textile industry is anyway in trouble. The MLA is now considering a scheme where rotis could be exported to western markets. told there is a huge demand for our rotis from NRIs living abroad. But we need big money I told such a venture, to be feasible, should be large, and would cost about Rs 500 crore. But how much can beedi women raise? You be lucky to find Rs 100-200 savings with them. But if we can get the funds and put up such a venture, at least 20,000 women will get jobs. I can raise Rs 5-50 lakh with the help of the workers; but raising Rs 500 crore will be a huge battle. But I am getting ready to launch that battle.
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