Stories from the Agarbhatti Makers Community

Incense stick production is a cottage industry that has been empowering a lot of dedicated workers who need work for survival. Since it doesn’t require any special skills it is preferred by a lot of people. Manjunathnagar is Bangalore has one such Incense factory. Most of the workers here are women above the age of 50 who need financial help. Each one of them had a different story to share…

Mariamma, a 70 year old widow told us about herself, “After my husband’s death, I was left with two sons and a daughter but they don’t take care of me. So I started working in this factory. I have no ration card or aadhar card so it is impossible to get a job anywhere else. I make around 300 sticks a day. It is hard work but I have no choice.”

They all have the same problems. Since they have no other option, they work nonstop every day to create fragrant incense sticks. None of them have any identity card. They all live in rented houses in the area. Prabha, a 60 year old worker talked about the comon ailments of incense factory workers, “We sit on the floor and work every day so we all suffer from back pain. Most of us have diabetes and high blood pressure. Some of us depend on painkillers. If we take a day off to rest at home, the owner doesn’t give us a day’s salary. We spend Rs. 3000-4000 every month on rent and we don’t even have ration cards. So we can’t afford to miss work even during our worst days.”

On Magadi Road there are around 50 incense factories which employ 1000 people. They are mostly Kannadigas and Tamilians from Hosur and Krishnagiri. There a number of children who work at the factory instead of going to school. Pramila, a widow with four children spoke about this problem, “My children should be going to school and not working here at this age. But I cannot afford to pay school fees, so I bring them here to work”. Here the output is 10000 sticks per person. They also have the same health problems plaguing the other Agarbatti workers.

Srirampura has two entire colonies of incense stick makers. These colonies situated in Hanumanthanagar and Swantantrapalya have families that have been doing incense making since three generations. The men here are abusive and don’t go to work. SO the women and children sit for work at 3pm in the afternoon every day and make incense sticks. Ramya, a school dropout who is now married with two kids says that the only reason she works here is because her mother used to do the same job. She inherited her mother’s skill and is now teaching her own children to do the same. The colony has a high occurrence of Tuberculosis along with many other health problems. Another problem here is that 10 families are made o share one toilet. This is not only inconvenient but also unhygienic and living under such conditions has only made their health problems worse.

These workers take their work very seriously. They get paid based on the number of sticks they make every day. For every 100 sticks, they are paid Rs. 28. Most of the women make  upto 800 sticks a day.

Do they need to organize themselves under the banner of home-based workers? What happens if they miss a day’s work?  Do they realize that  they are also entitled to medical leave, ration cards and good working conditions? Do they have necessary identity documents? What social security can they avail?

Tune in to Radio Active for more on the Agarbhatti Community

Jaydev ( Transcribed by Indrani Bharadwaj)

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