Rae Bareli: Beedis are affecting Afsana’s health, say doctors. She says she feels drugged and giddy and her heads hurts. The 13-year-old does not smoke beedis, she rolls them. A 1000 for Rs 45.
“Mother gets medicine from the shop which I have every time my head hurts,” says Afsana, who dropped out of school because there was no money to pay the fees. In Kumharan ka Purwa locality of Rae Bareli, Uttar Pradesh, where she lives, beedis are made in every home.
Afsana’s father 50-year-old Naushad is being treated for tuberculosis. He too learnt how to roll beedis at a young age. “My father got TB from rolling beedis and died. The dust from the tobacco gets lodged in the chest,” he says.
Other workers point to many more health hazards of rolling beedis like poor eyesight, joint pain and chronic cough.
The only doctor at the local health centre for beedi workers is on leave. Over 13,000 workers are registered at the centre. There is no data available on how many beedi workers suffer from serious health issues in the state, where beedi making is a big industry in 19 districts.
Dr Zain Hashim, Professor of Pulmonary Medicine at Lucknow’s SGPGI says “There is a high incidence of TB and asthma amongst the beedi workers as they pick up the allergens easily. Their socio economic condition makes matters worse.”
Not far from Rae Bareli, the Member of Parliament from Allahabad, SC Gupta, runs a massive beedi business. In these parts he is known as a “beedi baron.”
Mr Gupta claims that even the consumption of beedis is not harmful. “Tobacco is harmful, but it is used in a small quantity in beedi as compared to cigarettes… Why can’t doctors explain why chain smokers don’t get cancer?” he told media recently.
“Beedi are made and sold in India, should be separated from the cigarettes, chewing tobacco… One crore people are involved in beedi manufacture, transport and sale,” he added.