Cost of life in Jharia

ความดี ความเลว และความน่าชัง

Date: 30 MAR 2018 ~ 25 APR 2018

About: Documentary photo works exhibition at Chiang Mai

Job: participate artist

Location: Rumpueng Community Art Space, Chiang Mai

Cost of life in Jharia

Jharia is the largest open-pit coal mining area in North East India. There are numerous large corporations operating here. High quality bituminous coals are extracted to feed the demand for power in India as well as the global steel industry. It is already over 100 years old.

The Indian ethnic minority who originally lived here have now lost all their homes. This is the impact from the mining which began in the British colonial era. Underground there is a layer of burning coal that has been active for more than 100 years and is still nowadays, impossible to extinguish. The water is polluted and the soil is completely destroyed, making it unsuitable for farming.

In addition, serious environmental pollution is caused by dust, smoke and toxic gases. Here the poor people gather coal in two ways; either by stealing a few rocks from a huge corporate coal mine or by finding and collecting the coal from the scrap field. Every morning they collect coal and bring it to the village. Collected coal is split into appropriate sizes to make piles. Bituminous coals then need to go through a pre-burning process before they can be used for everyday activities like cooking. That initial burning generates a huge amount of toxic gas. When the coal is completely on fire it is covered with soil to block the oxygen. Then the bituminous coal swells up and the fire goes out. The process is complete after the coal is cooled overnight; it is then sold to the broker. Usually 4-5 family members can earn about $2 if they work all day. This coal is sold to restaurants and homes all over India.

Ironically, the process which supports them is also the biggest danger to their health. This work is the only way they can make money for food, bedding and clothing and a lot of the adults here contract chronic diseases from the environmental pollution. The poor families cannot afford to bring them to hospital, so the only solution is to make them as comfortable as possible at home. As a result of this, the other family members work harder to gather more coal and prepare it for market and this vicious cycle repeats itself here over and over again. Unfortunately, healthy adult men and women can only earn money by enduring worse conditions than a nearby company employee.

The corporate coal mines of capitalist organizations, who destroy the environment and earn huge profits, do not care about the pain that they cause. The Indian government has also closed its eyes. In the meantime families are continuing their lives without hope, generation after generation. Small NGOs and local newspapers that work there say that the beneficiaries have the responsibility to solve the problem. Once the coal-stock is depleted and the capitalists eventually leave, only the ruined environment, undrinkable water and polluted air will remain.

I shot for about a week here. The black soap bubbles every time I showered demonstrated how poor the environment is. Child labor, a tainted environment, a vast wealth gap, undrinkable water, burning underground, damaged soil, and the violent actions of large capitalist organizations … a comprehensive set of almost unimaginable problems in Jharia: A gift from the mining companies.

What is the cost of life in Jharia?