The Plight of Bidi Workers in India: Gig Economy's Dark Side

On October 12, 2017 By newsroom Topic: Labor

The gig economy is almost 100 years old in India, long before the rise of the freelancers in the IT industry and beyond. Thanks to Indian politicians, Indians continue to smoke cheap, unfiltered cigarattes, aka bidis, and bidi rollers continue to work for meagre wages while endangering their health. Some facts on the Bidi economy of India:

- 70 million+ Indians smoke the hand-rolled bidis.

- While a packet of 20 normal cigarettes can cost in excess of 150 rupees, a bundle of 15 bidies can sell for as little as five rupees, their price kept low by favourable tax rates.

- Up to 90 percent of the roughly 5.5 million bidi rollers are female.

- Most of the rollers are non-smokers.

- Being continuously exposed to tobacco dust, many suffer from high rates of respiratory diseases including tuberculosis and asthma, as well as skin and postural problems, studies have shown.

- A 2010 study of bidi rollers in the state of Bihar found that more than 70 percent of the workers suffered from eye, gastrointestinal and nervous problems while more than half suffered from respiratory problems.

- Bidis outsell filtered, paper-bound cigarattes by eight to one, giving the bidi factory owners a financial and political clout that critics say accounts for the recent shelving of plans for larger health warnings on packets.

The above image is from an excellent set of drawings, a comic, on the plight of bidi workers in India.

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