Street Vending: A Case of Economic Adaptation of the “Paanwalas” in Indian Cities

Street Vending: A Case of Economic Adaptation of the “Paanwalas” in Indian Cities

Arwah Madan (St. Mira's College for Girls, India)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8134-5.ch007
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The focus of this chapter is on the ingenious transformation of the Indian betel leaf vendor (paanwala)'s business. The “paanwala” who used to concentrate on the sale of betel leaf (paan) only has begun to engage in a diversified street vending. In fact, the sale of the “paan” itself has now been relegated to the background in favor of more modern and sophisticated items. This chapter reports on a study conducted among 174 betel leaf sellers in Pune. The findings of the study revealed that 80% of the sellers were aged between 18 and 45years. They have diversified the items in their boxes to include tobacco products and other modern confectioneries. Although the “paanwalas” stated that they were making fairly good livelihood out of their work, they continue to face such difficulties as harassment from local authorities and denial of right of ownership of property. It is recommended that a partnership between the “paanwalas” and the companies would assist in promoting innovation among the paanwalas.
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Traditionally, India is a consumer of the betel leaf or the ‘paan’. However, betel leaves chewing is not particular to only India but also to many Eastern countries. Betel leaf chewing is a part of the culture of such countries as Burma, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, the Pacific Islands, the Marquesas, China, Indo-China, Siam, East Africa, Arabia and Persia to name but a few. The consumption of ‘paan’ can be seen as a matter of habit, a convention, a part of hospitality or just an after-meal accompaniment ‘breath-sweetening technique’. In birth and death, in joy and sorrow, in respect and contempt, in friendship and enmity and in challenge as well as in honor, the indispensable nature of betel leaf is ever highlighted in all actions taken in the countries mentioned earlier.

Beyond the consumption of betel leaf for its carminative effects (the chewing after meals for its digestive and breath sweetening effects), the betel leaf offers medicinal advantages too. With the introduction of Tobacco by the Portuguese in the 16th century and its widespread use in India and China in the 17th Century, the betel leaf consumption with lime and tobacco became popular. In the former era, the betel leaf was consumed wholly while in the latter, the betel leaf is held in the mouth for the effect of tobacco and was neither swallowed nor consumed. The consumption of the betel leaf graduated to habitual chewing for narcotics effects with the use of tobacco. Betel leaf ultimately moved from the traditional ‘paandaan’, a small decorated box carried along with accompaniments kept in separated compartments to street corners with the paanwala, who offered a variety of paan as per the likings and taste of the consumer. The chewing of the betel leaf drifted away from its pure and harmless practice to one that of addiction with the use of tobacco.

One does not find much literature discussing the emergence of the paanwala as a revenue generating venture. It can only be said that the consumption of the betel leaf is a matter of cultural practice that ultimately spread to nooks and corners of villages, towns and cities as a matter of habitual practice. With the passage of time, the consumption of betel leaf along with tobacco has shifted to other processed forms of tobacco. While the traditional betel leaf is being sidelined and may soon vanish from the scene or get to be a rare commodity due to little demand for the same or for the shift to other forms of tobacco use, the ‘paanwala’ is no longer one who sells only ‘paan’. One needs to take note of how the life and times of the ‘paanwala’ have changed in the last one or two decades, especially with the opening up of the economy and the wide variety of substitutes available in competition to the ‘paan’. Betel leaf vending has now emerged as a much sought-after livelihood option with the changing times. The retail industry boom in India probably has provided the paanwala the opportunity for a lucrative entrepreneurial enterprise and may be referred to as a ‘mini supermarket’ found at convenient locations. Quite interestingly, the paanwala has kept pace with the changing times and shown great deal of transformation and diversification in his business.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Street Hawking: Street Hawking is an occupation taken up by migrants when they arrive in urban areas; offering on sale household items, vegetables or cooked food on streets for a living.

Livelihood Opportunities: It is a set of activities that would provide for assets, income, and activities that are required for the acquisition of the basic necessities of life.

Informal Economy: Informal economy comprises workers who work as daily wage earners or for self and are not covered under any social security measures.

Livelihood: Livelihood is made up of basic necessities of life. It is designed to sustain life and living in poor homes.

Right of Ownership: A legal declaration that allows people to claim possession of any property or item and to show proof of such a claim.

Betel Leaf “Paan”: The betel (piper betel) is a vine belonging to the piperaceae family; the betel leaf is consumed in Asia.

Paanwala: The seller of the betel leaf is referred to as the paanwala. The paanwala sells in the nooks and corners of all streets and footpaths and at crossroads.

Paandaan: The paandaan is an elaborately decorated box to store the betel leaf along with accompaniments stored in separated compartments.

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