Solapur: In Solapur of Maharashtra, criteria to be the most eligible bride is not education or wealth but possession of a ‘bidi card’. Families of prospective grooms list these girls on their topmost choice, without demanding ‘dowry’.
Bidi factories issue cards that mention worker’s daily output and skill level. A bidi card owner means they will get a regular job, benefits such as provident fund, bonus and medical help. “A few years ago, I got a bidi card from the factory attesting to my skills. I don’t have to worry about marriage or dowry,” a nineteen-year-old bidi roller Radha Dhanewale says.
“I have rolled bidis with my mother since my school days,” says the young bidi roller. Getting a bidi card is like having a government job, she says.
As per a TOI report, around 65,000 women roll bidis for around 200 factories, while men get engaged in textile industry, for which Solapur is renowned for. Scissors and thread are the only ‘tools’ required in rolling bidis, with a lot of dexterity. The leaves — tendu or kendo — are first flattened gently and then filled with tobacco without breaking them.
Radha rolls 1,000 bidis every day and earns Rs 140. The factory deducts provident fund from her earnings. The older women train the younger ones. “Most of the girls in the bastis of bidi workers, attend school. But there is no guarantee of a job even after graduating. So we start learning to roll bidis,” says 21-year-old Priyanka Madgundi, who finished Class 12 and says she would have gone to college if she’d been sure of a job.
“The bidi cards have made it easier for women to find husbands who do not demand dowry,” says Narsayya Adam, a bidi workers’ leader and former MLA.