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Kids working in India’s coal mines came as ‘complete shock’, says Filmmaker Chandrasekhar Reddy

India has 5.7 million child workers aged between five and 17 and there are 168 million child workers globally, says ILO

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Coal mines in India. Image source: www.amusingplanet.com India
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  • International Labor Organization estimates there are 168 million child workers globally
  • The film tells the story of Suraj, an 11-year-old boy, who was born in India of Nepali parents
  • Many workers are from countries like Nepal and Bangladesh, who are often trafficked with the promise of good jobs or are in debt bondage to powerful mine owners

MUMBAI– When Chandrasekhar Reddy travelled to northeastern India in 2011, the director was looking for material for a film on forests in the region famed for its misty hills and waterfalls.

Instead, he found children as young as five working in coal mines.

Horrified yet fascinated, Reddy stayed in Meghalaya state for several months, befriending the children and their families, and slowly gaining access to the mines, many of which are illegal.

Reddy eventually gathered enough material for his first feature-length documentary, ‘Fireflies in the Abyss’, which was released in India last week after winning the award for Best Film in the Mumbai International Film Festival in February.

Set in the Jaintia Hills, the documentary shows young boys descending steep chutes – little more than “rat holes”- with makeshift ladders to dig coal from hard rock with just a pickaxe and a flashlight.

“The fact that children were working in the mines came as a complete shock to me,” Reddy told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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“So many of my preconceived notions of what is right and wrong, the state, the law, the police, families and relationships – they were all turned on their head, as it is a very different world there,” he said.

The film tells the story of Suraj, an 11-year-old boy, who was born in India of Nepali parents.

He lives with his sister and father, a miner who is drunk most of the time. His mother is dead.

Suraj desperately wants to go to school but is expected to work to help feed the family.

Despite a law that bans child labour, India has 5.7 million child workers aged between five and 17, according to the International Labor Organization which estimates there are 168 million child workers globally.

A child works in a mining factory in Kashmir. Image source: www.aljazeera.com
A child works in a mining factory in Kashmir. Image source: www.aljazeera.com

Activists estimate that about a fifth of all mine workers in India are children. Many works for more than 10 hours a day in filthy conditions, exposed to coal dust, silica dust, noxious fumes and the risk of injury or death from collapsing mines.

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“Fear won’t get any work done; you need to give up worrying about your life,” one of the young boys with Suraj says.

“But if you die here, it’s a dog’s death.”

In Meghalaya, which means “abode of clouds” in Sanskrit, many workers are from the neighbouring countries of Nepal and Bangladesh. They are often trafficked with the promise of good jobs or are in debt bondage to powerful mine owners.

In a 2012 report, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, an umbrella group of charities, said children working in the mines in Jaintia Hills faced “hazardous conditions” with no safety or social welfare measures.

While state officials have downplayed the prevalence of child labour, the report said the presence of rat holes indicated child workers since it was “humanly not possible for an adult to enter those holes to extract coal”.

In the end, Suraj gets his chance at receiving an education – with the help of some friends, who also worked in the mines.

“The mine workers live in such uncertainty, such desperation, yet there is so much camaraderie and solidarity,” said Reddy.

“Perhaps that’s what keeps them going, and gives some of them the hope that things can change,” he said. (Reuters)

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  • Aparna Gupta

    Child labour is illegal and working in a coal mine is even more hazardous. Thanks to Mr. Reddy for making a feature film on this issue.

  • Akanksha Sharma

    It is sad to see that these chichildr are not allowed to live like normal children.

  • Aparna Gupta

    Child labour is illegal and working in a coal mine is even more hazardous. Thanks to Mr. Reddy for making a feature film on this issue.

  • Akanksha Sharma

    It is sad to see that these chichildr are not allowed to live like normal children.

Next Story

Shoot The Rapist At The Sight

 And which type is contributing more dangerously to the society can easily be measured with our simple plus and minus equation

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This glaring aberration in the world of media is visible as clearly as stars in the darkness of the night.
India is plagued with a disease called Rape. Wikimedia Commons

Salil Gewali

  • India is plagued with a disease called Rape
  • There are no rigorous punishments for rape
  • Rapists openly commit crimes without anny fear

Why the clamour only for the rigorous punishment for rape and other sadistic crimes which have their roots in the mental-degeneration? Apart from the toughest punishment to the perpetrators, let’s go deeper to analyze what could be the possible  “causes”  that push men to commit rape. Why so much mental degeneration that certain individuals can stoop to the gutter being to their status, their position and social values? Well, how to address those issues is certainly a challenge. And that “challenge” certainly calls for a serious brain-storming and a serious self-assessment vise-a vise the environment in which we all are living.

Ranaghat Nun Rape Case
Rape culture in India garnered more spotlight following the Nirbhaya-gang rape, after which the issue has continue to remain a burning topic in the country. Pixabay

True, in the physical world we are highly convinced brag about that healthy environment is a must for our healthy living. Even kids know these days that we can’t breathe well if our surroundings are filled with high levels of  “toxicity”. We have well studied through our academic textbooks that people invite the environmental disaster if they keep on allowing excessive emission of CO2, CO, methane and other dangerous gases into the atmosphere. We have fully acknowledged that each tall and black chimney of the industries and the nozzles of the motor vehicles are here only to mar the beauty of this planet? What kind of damages the toxic gases are doing to our ecosystem are not at all tough job to analyze with modern appliances. Again, a lot amount of books have been published to create the awareness, to inform us about the scientifically tested measures to resolve the environmental concerns.

However, do we have the same amount of literature that pinpoint the “causes” which contribute to turning “males into perverts”? Who else is emitting the “toxic substances” that overpower the inborn sensitivity of the deviant? What are the properties of toxic filth that is polluting the mind-scape of the society? Now we have Donald Trump, the president of the USA, whom many prefer call him a pervert. At this rate, the number perverts are increasing and they have become dangerously ubiquitous. And, all those perverts have brought nightmares to the ill-fated females. We often stage candle march in protest against the rape, but remain blind to the glaring “causes”. Should we still fiddle about and be appreciative of the society that shameless covers itself with the vulgarity — the “toxicity” that might numb the sanity of males? Watch out, dear friends, those perverts have begun to see even “baby girls” as objects of lust!

Please note:  what our sages said:  “What you see that you think, what you think that you do and what you do that become !!!!”

Also Read: Eat Grapes To Ward Off Depression

Again, I would like to draw another similarity with what prompt big people to “rape”/violate the harmony of the Mother Earth. The case is very regularly brought out by the conscious citizens across the country. A senior journalist Patricia Mukhim of Meghalaya has pointedly driven home recently how the “greed for money” has corrupted many leaders who are trying hard to justify the senseless exploitation of the “body” of Mother Earth. Many big shots of big companies struggle to convince the politicians to tweak the laws to grant the permission to perpetually “rape” the country.

In my mind, both are infected with common syndromes! While the one type is interested in the body of the females, the other type has a fetish for the rocky body of the “Mother Earth”. And which type is contributing more dangerously to the society can easily be measured with our simple plus and minus equation.

The rape victims are not getting the justice they deserve.
The rape victims are not getting the justice they deserve.

Let’s assess the issues from another angle, given the advancement of medical science. Till some years back malaria, dengue, cholera, HIV, smallpox were life-taking diseases. But the medical science has pretty successfully eradicated or contained them all. The scientists have correctly identified the causes of those dangerous diseases and recommended the remedial measures. No doubt, that is a very productive achievement. However, why have the modern studies practically failed to “identify the causes”  of the pandemic rise of the horrendous instances of rapes and criminality associated with them? Is it not a strong slap in the face of the modern civilization considering we have not yet spelt out the causes and the characteristic symptoms the  “toxic emitters” who turn decent males into sadists? How long will we endure the depravity which has already strangulated the decency of the society? Should we still wait to work out the tough laws? Should we still hitch to explore for the “causes” and remedial measures? I guess the time is ripe that each morally conscious individual be allowed a shotgun to shoot the “perversion and depravity” of any kind at sight!

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’. Twitter: @SGewali.