The occupational hazard among the Byadgi Market workers goes unreported
Jamal Bi sat under a tree and tried to open her lunch box, but her fingers hurt, doing so. She has been separating a lot of chilli stalks daily. She has dark patches in the tip of her fingers and said that she covers them with a bandage when the pain is unbearable. She has walked from her home, two kilometres away to the Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC), Byadgi at six in the morning. She will leave at five in the evening. During this time, she separates stalks of around 25-30kgs of chillies. With her, hundreds of women flood to the market everyday from neighbouring villages and get their daily wages. These women earn Rs.8 or Rs.10 for a kilogram that makes for Rs.250-300 per day.
Sajik, in his forties, has been working in the chilli powder factories for nearly eight years. He earns around Rs.650 a day and works for around 10-12 hrs. He says, “Initially, when I started working here I was coughing a lot, my eyes used to the water, but now I am used to it, now also sometimes I cough if the powder flies too much.” These factories run for 24 hours and workers work in shifts here. Kalandar Mannaghi who is a watchman of a chilli powder factory says, “I usually don’t go inside, but whenever I do, I start coughing.”
They avoid visiting a doctor because it costs them much and they think it is of no use. Jamal Bi laughs and says, “I visited a doctor, He gave me some medicine and an injection, but of no use, I still have irritation.” So she chooses a cheaper option that is pharmacists. The pharmacist provides them with an eye drop as a remedy to the pain. Sanjay Havanur owner of Prabhu Medicals says, “They (the labourers) don’t bring any prescription, they just say their fingers are itching and I give the ointment.” The eye drop is used to treat minor eye infections, like conjunctivitis.
Umesh MK of General Medicals says, “Their skin becomes hard because of constantly plucking chilly caps. Chloramphenicol eye drop when they use, their skin feels smooth, and they also buy band-aid, they put it in all the five fingers and work.” He says in a day around 20-30 ladies come to his medical shop for buying the eye drops.
The eye drops bottle costs Rs.65 and it contains 100 capsules. The band-aid costs Rs.2. If the allergy is too much, they have been provided with Citrizin tablets by the same pharmacists.
Dr Ravi Paremeshwaran a local homoeopathy physician says, “Rarely anyone comes from the APMC market if they come I see and give them the suitable medicine. One or two people come to the clinic in a month”
The women are also not seen in government hospitals. Dr Ramesh V is a dermatologist and works in the Byadgi Government Hospital says, “No such patients have come to me, here in medical hospital usually psoriasis patients come.”
The men also don’t go to doctors unless it leads to big trouble, like breathing issues.
Dr Rajashekar, who is a homoeopathy doctor in the Byadgi Government hospital, said that he once had a patient from the chilli powder factories, who was suffering from, allergic bronchitis. The patient complained of breathlessness. The doctor who treated him before said that he just had a dust allergy. He was given medications for four to five days. It didn’t help him, so he was advised to use asthma nebulizer. It was also of no use as he had to use it every two hours. Later Dr Rajeshekar diagnosed that it is bronchi allergy and Rajashekar his giving him the required medicines.
The disease mostly goes under-reported as workers don’t have a huge amount to spend on their illness.
Health officer of Byadgi B.H. Shediyannavar says, “We don’t record any such disease. What can we do, the traders and owners have to provide them (the workers) with masks and gloves.”
Dr Vasunethra who is a pulmonologist based in Bangalore says, “It is one of the occupational diseases. The chilli factory workers can be compared to flour mill workers; both have similar kind of exposure. But surely, Chilies are more allergenic, because of its pungency, when compared to the flour. What these factory workers will have is an airway disease. It includes sneezing and coughing most of the times with whitish spit. They could be also affected by something dangerous like hypersensitivity pneumonitis, in which they will develop lung fibrosis. It is definitely an issue for people working in the chilli factory.”
Around 200 trading companies are there in Byadgi chilli market, located in Haveri District. Every day around 400 to 500 women come from the villages to the chilly market in search of a job. You can see women from the age of 15 to 80 working in the chilly market.
Byadgi chillies are famous all over the world for its pungency and colour value. The chilli is used to produce oleoresin (Chemical used in lipstick production). Oleoresin is used in cosmetics, especially lipstick for its colour. The APMC market was started in Byadgi around the 1970’s. Slowly the market started growing. Farmers from Andhra come here to sell their chilli produce. It has an e-tender system, which makes the process more transparent and easier for the farmers. The market is crowded from December to February every year. Other than the trading companies there are chilli powder factories and 20 cold storage to preserve the chillies. Surrounding the market there are also oleoresin factories.
The women are assigned work by the traders in the market. The women sit at the same place from dawn to dusk. Rarely there is a roof to sit under or they sit under a tree. In a small place, a minimum of 10 women sits together, all surrounded by chilli bags and each bag is of 30 Kg. The women are made to sit just outside the chilli trader’s shop, while the women pluck; men fill the bags, weigh and carry the chillies to the Lorries. No gloves are provided to these ladies. The ladies also think that wearing gloves will slow down the plucking process.
Sitting for a long time without any support also leads to backache complain the old ladies working in the market, said.
Dr Ramesh V agreed that the workers might have a skin disease. “Unhygienic work condition could lead to a skin disease among them.”
They sometimes also bring their kids to the chilli market, which one can see sitting above a pile of sacks or helping their mother. There is a pay and use Sulabh toilet just outside the market gates.
Men working in factories don’t use any masks or gloves, the chilli powder keeps flying. A stack of powder is piled up and kept in a corner. There are no toilets in the factory. Once they finish working, they wash hands and legs in a tap placed outside the factory and leave. The factories run 24 hours, so there is also a night shift.
The traders in the chilli market usually prefer ladies to separate stalks of chillies. Raju Mogre a trader says, “Ladies are the most patient people, they can patiently sit for 10-12 hrs in the same place and do the work.” Ladies themselves also prefer working here. Girijabai takes a share auto from her house which is 2 kms away, with her two daughters and spends around Rs.60 a day in travelling. Her daughters also work in the same market. She says, “This is an easy work for ladies to do, as we cannot work in the factories we prefer this.”
The women are not provided with gloves as it slows down their work. Women themselves also don’t prefer wearing that thinking it is a hindrance to their work.
Chaman Sahaab who is an owner of the chilli factory says, “Nothing happens to the workers and they are provided with masks.” But the workers inside were not wearing any masks, some have a kerchief tied to their face.” The men prefer working here because of the higher pay that they get in the factories.
Jamal Bi says “sometimes I get Rs.100 sometimes I get Rs.200 or maximum Rs.300, depending on how much chilli caps I pluck in a day.” Jamal Bi says her only son of 17 years is working as a toilet cleaner in the Byadgi government hospital. He earns around Rs.2000 per month. He had to discontinue his education to start working for the family. Girijabai has two daughters Deepa and Gayatri. They come to the market every day. She also stopped their education after 10th standard, as she wanted them to work, so that they can support the family. She also added that “I have to marry them off, for that, I need some money.”
Gangova who thinks she might be of 62 years finds it difficult to sit in the market for a long time but still comes to work as he has loans to pay. She says, “Rs.200, Rs.250 or Rs.300 is what we all get per day. With that money we have to pay loans, take care of children, take care of water bills (As there are no proper water facilities in the villages) the entire burden is on the poor.”
While the villagers can work in the farms as labourers, they don’t prefer that as it is seasonal and lesser revenue compared to this.
World Health Organization (WHO) had come up with the report which states that 85 per cent of the informal sector workers doesn’t have any health coverage. So the WHO came up with “Workers’ Health: Global Plan of Action”, under which it has given specific guidelines to the member countries on how to provide healthcare benefits to the informal workers.
In Karnataka, there is Karnataka Arogya Scheme, which provides health care benefits to whole Karnataka. The eligibility of the candidate is decided upon, what kind of Public Distribution System (PDS) card the family holds. Using Aadhar Card details a unique ID is generated for each family member. Registration can be done in primary health care centres. The scheme is a convergence of various health schemes available in Karnataka. It has very less number of Hospitals under it where you can claim this insurance. The only hospital, which offers this scheme, is Haveri’s District Hospital. Distance from Haveri to Byadgi is 25Kms.
According to the WHO report, the solution to the occupational and work-related disease is providing them with access and constant monitoring whether they are getting any proper healthcare and helping them financially to afford these health care facilities. There are rules in India that a health checkup should be conducted of employers. Kishen Kumar.N.K. Associate Head –Operations of oleoresin Company Kancor Mane said, “In our company, we have annual health checkups, we conduct tests and it is compulsory under law as the inspection takes place. But small companies might not bother to do so.”
Dr Vasunethra says, “Occupational diseases cannot be eradicated, but can be controlled if the employers take some precautionary measures like providing and masks.”