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Coal mines in India. Image source: www.amusingplanet.com India
  • 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

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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Basil Leaves

Basil scientifically called Ocimum basilicum, and also known as great basil, is a culinary herb from the Lamiaceae (mints) family. A common aromatic herb, it is usually used to add flavor to a variety of recipes, but what may astonish one is that there are various health benefits of basil that make it well-known for its immunity-enhancing properties.

Basil seeds or basil essential oil are proven to help prevent a wide range of health conditions, which makes it one of the most essential medical herbs known today. Basil has vitamin A, C, E, K, and Omega 3 components including cooling components too. It also contains minerals like Copper, Calcium, Manganese, Phosphorus, Zinc, and Potassium. An ancient Ayurvedic herb, basil has various proven benefits including being anti-inflammatory, ant-oxidant, immune-booster, pain-reducer, and blood vessel-protector.

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This herb also contains cooling components thus making it really helpful for summers. It detoxifies the body and maintains one's body temperature pace. Adding to the benefits Basil contains antioxidant-rich volatile essential oils, which are considered hydrophobic, meaning they don't dissolve in water and are light and small enough to travel through the air and the pores within our skin. Basil's volatile essential oil is something that gives the herb its distinct smell and taste, but basil contains some great healing properties.

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When you're pregnant, the immune system is seeing the placenta for the first time in decades.

The US researchers have discovered a class of immune cells that plays a role in miscarriage, which affects about a quarter of pregnancies.

Researchers at the University of California-San Francisco found that the recently discovered subset of cells known as extrathymic Aire-expressing cells in the immune system may prevent the mother's immune system from attacking the placenta and fetus.

The researchers showed that pregnant mice who did not have this subset of cells were twice as likely to miscarry, and in many of these pregnancies fetal growth was severely restricted.

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"When you're pregnant, the immune system is seeing the placenta for the first time in decades -- not since the mother made a placenta when she herself was a fetus," said Eva Gillis-Buck, from UCSF.

"Our research suggests that this subset of immune cells is carrying out a sort of 'secondary education' -- sometimes many years after the better-known population of the educator cells have carried out the primary education in the thymus -- teaching T cells not to attack the fetus, the placenta and other tissues involved in pregnancy," she added. The findings are published in the journal Science Immunology.

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