Agri Business

When bidi card keeps home fires burning

Radheshyam Jadhav Pune | Updated on October 14, 2020 Published on October 14, 2020

Credit extended to bidi workers in Solapur acts as a lifeline

Whoever thought that the toxic profession of bidi rolling would have kept home fires burning in Solapur?

For about 50,000 women in this Maharashtra town whose job is to fill tendu leaves with tobacco flakes and roll out smoke sticks, the ‘bidi card’ they get from their employers has come as a lifeline — especially as their men have been hit hard during the pandemic by job losses.

The ‘bidi card’ is a piece of paper that not only gives the highly skilled women workers benefits such as provident fund, bonus, and medical assistance, but during the pandemic it has also opened the door to loans.

Local scribe Suryakant Asbe, who has closely followed the lives of bidi workers here, explains, “The bidi card is like a credit card for poor women in Solapur. Any formal or informal lender (banks or private money lenders) would be happy to provide loans to bidi cardholders.”

Solapur is known as the textile and bidi hub of Maharashtra. While men work in the textile industry, women earn a living rolling bidis manually for the 200-odd branded factories here. It’s a highly labour-intensive occupation, and like in the rest of the country, women form the bulk of the workforce of the industry.

“After fighting a legal battle for years, bidi workers here have earned rights as industrial employees and get all benefits that employees are entitled to under various government Acts,” says Narasayya Adam, leader of bidi workers.

However, there are 10,000-12,000 women working as contract workers, who are deprived of these benefits.

According to Balasaheb Jagdale of Solapur Bidi Udyog, “The textile industry in Solapur is on death bed, and after Covid-19, the situation has worsened. It is the women bidi rollers who have anchored their families during this crisis as the bidi industry is operating smoothly.”

Women who have bidi cards are sought after in the marriage market, he says.

Occupational hazards

But this ‘credit card’ comes at a cost. Bidi rollers suffer from occupational hazards, including gastrointestinal issues, burning sensation in the throat, nerve-related problems, cough, and respiratory complications.

Also read: ‘Regulation of non-Virginia tobacco can help government earn ₹30,000 cr more’

Also read: Health groups to GST Council: Tax ‘bidi’ at 28% to save millions of lives


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Published on October 14, 2020
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