Agarbathi workers facing myriad of health problems

Respiratory, urinary tract infections high among women labourers

Uppala is just 23-years-old and has three children. Rolling agarbathis since the time she was a young girl, her life has taken a turn for the worse as the years have gone by. For, she is a part of the industry that takes a steady toll on labourers’ health and offers no sufficient financial compensation.

“I get cough attacks frequently and always spit out black mucous,” she says. Uppala rolls 2,000 agarbattis everyday at an agarbathi factory in Srirampuram. “We are paid Rs 25 for 1,000 agarbattis,” she says. Rolling 2,000 agarbathis is a standard among most women. For, a mere Rs 50 a day, the health problems they contract are many.

Problems such as severe back ache, knee pain and urinary tract infections are common among the workers. Most of them also have constant coughing and get fever regularly.
Another worker, Sampa says that she has constant back ache and sometimes finds it difficult to even walk. “I sit for hours to finish rolling the bathis. Taking a break means spending more time on rolling bathis. Who will cook if I do that? I get fever at least once a month. Cold and cough are now a part of everyday routine,” she says.

“I have great difficulty passing urine. I experience severe burning sensation and sometimes I cannot pass urine at all,” says a worker requesting anonymity.

Lakshmi, a former agarbathi worker, says that she too used to suffer from the same.
“I rolled agarbathis for seven years and after some time I started feeling a burning sensation while passing urine. Some nights I could not sleep because of that,” she says. Unable to handle the problems, she now works in a canteen.

Gynaecologist Dr Padmini Prasad says that it is a common problem among women in this profession. “The chemicals that go into making of agarbathis get absorbed into the body through their skin. This can cause irritation and also coloured urine which later leads to urinary tract infections.”

She goes on to add that not taking regular breaks in between work can also lead to infections.

“These women sit for hours with no proper water or fluid intake. Sometimes, to finish the work faster they even avoid going to the bathroom. All of these can lead to severe problems while passing urine,” she says.

Anjali, another worker who recently got into the profession says that she vomits almost every day since she started. “Dust from the bathis settles every where in the house. Even if we wash our hands properly, our hands are still black,” she said. Dr Prasad adds that these women need to be provided with protective gear. “The chemicals can also lead to problems in breathing and cause burning in the eyes.”

Amuda, an agarbatti worker has been rolling bathis for more than 12 years now. She has a son and a daughter, who is also into the same profession. “My son developed breathing problems when I used to roll bathis. And, he still can’t breathe properly especially when he is sleeping.”

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