As Obama-mania spreads beyond the atlantic over to India it is worth recounting democratic hopeful Barack Obama’s tryst with Ganesh Beedis, a Mangalore based premier beedi maker back in 1999-2000.

An incisive expose on the use of child labour in India’s beedi industry on CBS‘ celebrated 60 Minutes program has resulted in the Clinton administration banning imports from Ganesh Beedis

Reacting to the ban Ganesh Beedis had this to say:

Rejecting the US government’s charge, he said there was a 15 per cent fall in demand for beedis. And without a workload, where is the need to employ children, he asked. Presently, the company’s beedi exports stand at $ 60,000 per year, he claimed

But the real story of the effect of these sanctions comes from a field study by CUTS Centre For International Trade, Economics and Environment (CITEE) in the Beedi making areas of South India.

It is almost one year after imposition of sanctions that CITEE conducted a field survey in order to find out whether the sanctions in any way have helped in eradicating child labour from the Indian Beedi industry. The survey indicates that after the sanctions the Beedi workers are getting less work from Ganesh and have been forced to take work from other Beedi companies, which pay far less than Ganesh.

In the wake of reduced earnings, parents have been forced to pull their children out of school and put them into Beedi making or other works.  The boys have chosen to polish boots, domestic home service, or agarbatti manufacturing over Beedi rolling as they get higher wages there. But the girls cannot do anything other then Beedi rolling, as they aren’t able to go out of their homes (More than 80 percent of the Beedi workers are from the highly conservative Muslim community). 

The survey further indicates that around 60 percent of the poor children who used to help their parents also went to schools before the sanctions. However after one year of the sanctions this number is not even one fourth of the earlier. In case of girls, 90 percent of them have dropped out of schools and helping their parents to earn enough for meeting the basic needs or in some cases to arrange school fees for their younger siblings. 

The highlight of this sordid saga is the role played by Senator Barack Obama in getting the Beedi ban. This story in the Rediff in 2000 recounts the role played by then State Senator of Illinois Barack Obama on legislation that would ban the sale of bidis across Illinois. In fact Illinois was the first U.S. State to take action on Bidis.

Offstumped Bottomline: For all those in India getting carried away with Obama-mania and those Indian Americans rooting for change they can believe in, you may well take your cue on what a Barack Obama Presidency will likely mean for India from the beedi ban. With a history of standing for bans and sanctions, that hope for change may end up just being a mirage for those who survive on cottage industries that are next on the hit list of the Obama type of liberal-progressive activism.

Originally posted here

http://offstumped.nationalinterest.in/2008/02/20/how-obamas-beedi-ban-affected-india/#post-comments

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