Self-reliance through Beedi-rolling

This is a profile of a Muslim woman, a home-maker, in Alampur Village of Gadwal district in Andhra Pradesh (India). The interview was conducted in 2017 during a field visit to the area as part of the ‘Covering Deprivation’ course in the third trimester of the post-graduate diploma in Print Journalism from the Asian College of Journalism (ACJ). The article was published in the special issue of ‘Covering Deprivation’ newspaper in 2017, an yearly publication of ACJ.

Shahida rolling beedis

Shahida (name changed on request) blushed every time somebody asked her age. Her facial expressions told a story of experience and content. She must be in her mid-forties residing in Alampur village in Gadwal district. The Muslim housewife with a 20-year-old daughter has finally found something that she could call her own- a self-help group of ten women who roll beedis to sustain each other.

Seven years ago, when her in-laws died, Shahida had an overwhelming urge to break free from a life where all her activities revolved around the welfare of others- her husband, in-laws, and daughter. She aspired to earn for herself and fulfil her own little demands by her own means.

She spoke to the neighbouring women who came for an occasional chat during afternoons in her little house with one bedroom along with a TV set and a stuffed yet neat kitchen. She was successful in infusing her enthusiasm in them and soon she had an army of ten women who were determined to utilise their capabilities to earn for themselves.

Beedi-rolling was something that was unanimously agreed upon given their minimal educational qualifications. In no time, they applied for a loan of Rs.1 lakh from the bank. As soon as it got sanctioned, Shahida started methodically organising the accounts and so began their “business”.

The women still come for the afternoon chat sessions. Only now, they sit together in Shahida’s bedroom, watching soap operas while rolling beedis amid sounds of giggles and gossip. Each one of them rolls 1000 beedis in a day.

Shahida wakes up at five in the morning with replenished energy for the various chores she has to do throughout the course of the day. After she is done reading the ‘namaz’, she prepares breakfast and packs lunch for her husband who leaves at 8 o’ clock to work as an electrician in Kurnool town.

After her husband leaves for work, she does the remaining household chores and dusting before she takes a bath. She then takes out her basket from under the bed. The basket has tobacco, tendu leaves, little red threads and a pair of scissors. She sits with folded legs and cuts out the tendu leaves in perfect rectangles. She then rolls the crushed tobacco in those rectangular pieces before tying them up with the thread.

In the afternoon at around 12 o’clock, she gets up to have a lonely lunch. After lunch, she has company of the other women. The women leave at 5 in the evening to read the ‘namaz’. By 7 in the evening, Shahida is done with her quota of 1000 beedis. She prepares dinner for her husband who comes back at 9 just to have dinner and collapse to bed.

Shahida complains of back ache while rolling beedis but she still seems to enjoy it.

“I can roll beedis now without even having to look. It’s become a habit. The backache is sometimes very severe but it doesn’t matter when I get the money in my hand,” says Shahida.

Their little business has flourished over the years. They take loans in regular intervals to develop it further. At the end of the week, the beedis are collected by a wholesale dealer who sells it in the market. The ten women systematically generate collective savings, part of which they utilise to get materials for their business.

Shahida has no knowledge of where her beedis go, under what brand and who smokes them. She seems to be content with Rs. 3000 that each of them gets at the end of the week.

Shahida’s husband is nonchalant about her endeavours. He did not have his consent when Shahida had revealed her plan. But she had convinced him that it wouldn’t come in the way of her household duties.

“My husband just comes for meals. He is not around much to monitor me. But when he creates trouble, I ignore it by keeping shut,” Shahida explains.

Shahida’s daughther, Shahina is pursuing her bachelor degree in Kurnool city where she stays in the hostel. She comes home during the weekends and sometimes helps her mother with the accounts.

Shahida wants her daughter to complete her graduation and then she wishes to get her married.

“I want my daughter to work for herself but I also want her to be happily married. She could work after her marriage and she has the qualifications for it too,” says Shahida who sponsors half of her daughter’s education.

Shahida understands the importance of generating individual savings too and she is glad that she could achieve it, repeatedly emphasizing that it wouldn’t be possible without his fellow team mates.

She gleefully exclaims, “I am happy that I can buy the red saree that I really want without having to ask money from my husband.”



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Ankita Bose

Ankita is a middle-class Bengali woman whose eyelids are painted with yet-to-be fulfilled dreams. An avowed reader, she only wants to learn and write in life.