понедельник, 19 марта 2012 г.

Indian girl trapped in life of cigarette rolling

life of cigarette rolling

Sagira Ansari sits on a dusty sack outside her uneven brick home in this poor town in eastern India, her legs folded beneath her. She cracks her knuckles, then rubs charcoal ash between her palms.

With the unthinking swiftness of a movement performed countless times before, she slashes a naked razor blade into a square-cut leaf to trim off the veins. She drops in flakes of tobacco, packs them with her thumbs, rolls the leaf tightly between her fingers and ties it off with two twists of a red thread.

For eight hours a day, Sagira makes bidis - thin brown cigarettes that are as central to Indian life as chai and flat bread.

She is 11 years old.

Sagira is among hundreds of thousands of children toiling in the hidden corners of rural India. Many work in hazardous industries crucial to the economy: the fiery brick kilns that underpin the building industry, the pesticide-laden fields that produce its food.

Most of the children in Sagira's town of Dhuliyan in West Bengal state work in the tobacco dust to feed India's near limitless demand for bidis.

Under Indian law, this is legal.

Sagira, who has deep brown eyes and a wide smile, joined her family's bidi work when she was seven. At first she just rolled out thread for her older sisters and brother, then she helped finish off the cigarettes, pushing down the open ends. Last year, she graduated to full-scale rolling.

She is not alone. Her best friend, Amira, also rolls bidis. So do Wasima and Jaminoor and the rest of the girls in a neighborhood that is, at its heart, a giant, open-air bidi factory.

Parents and children roll cigarettes on rooftops, in the alleyways, by the roads. One woman draped in a red shawl in the yard behind Sagira's house breast feeds her baby while rolling. Of the roughly 20,000 families in Dhuliyan, an estimated 95 percent roll bidis to survive.

Sagira is expert enough that even when distracted, her fingers continue to flit blindly through the tobacco shavings in front of her.

She says the work can make her ill, with a cold, a cough, a fever. Her head often aches. So do her fingers.

Sometimes, she takes her woven basket of tendu leaves and tobacco to the banks of the Ganges to roll in a circle with her friends. She stops every so often to splash in the river for a few moments. Then she gets back to work.

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