Visual Artist and Documentary Photographer Masood Sarwer is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this documentary photography. From the project ‘Burning Both Ends’. To see Masood’s body of work, click on any image.
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 center of the silk trade but presently, it is India’s largest center 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, anemia, eye infections, gynecological & 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.
When newborn babies are exposed to tobacco their eyes burn in pain and effects their overall growth.
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.
Children like Shamoli Das are cheated out of play, education and health – effectively denied a childhood and it is a fate of every girl here, who are into rolling beedi.
Boys have the liberty to play and roam free while girls are made to roll beedi at home.
All images and text © Masood Sarwer
By Masood Sarwer
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