Indian girl trapped in the life of cigarette rolling

DHULIYAN, India (AP) — Sagira Ansari sits on a dusty sack outside her uneven brick home in this poor town in eastern India, her legs folded beneath her. She cracks her knuckles, then rubs charcoal ash between her palms.

With the unthinking swiftness of a movement performed countless times before, she slashes a naked razor blade into a square-cut leaf to trim off the veins. She drops in flakes of tobacco, packs them with her thumbs, rolls the leaf tightly between her fingers and ties it off with two twists of a red thread.

For eight hours a day, Sagira makes bidis — thin brown cigarettes that are as central to Indian life as chai and flat bread.

She is 11 years old.

Sagira is among hundreds of thousands of children toiling in the hidden corners of rural India. Many work in hazardous industries crucial to the economy: the fiery brick kilns that underpin the building industry, the pesticide-laden fields that produce its food.
Most of the children in Sagira’s town of Dhuliyan in West Bengal state work in the tobacco dust to feed India’s near limitless demand for bidis.

Under Indian law, this is legal.

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