Errand boys

As the sun sets in Jharia in Jharkhand, the activities in the coal mines surrounding the village are yet to end. A group of children is scavenging the edges of the mine for unburned lumps of coal. They collect as much as their hands can gather and set off on the rocky road that leads back to the village. The children are smiling as they seem to have collected a large amount of coal to take back home.

However, as they turn the last bend leading up to the village, the smiles disappear from their faces. A Tata pickup truck slows to a stop in front of the children and four men in uniform order the children to stop and confiscate the coal they are carrying. Barely comprehensible on the side of the truck are the letters – CISF. It was the Central Industrial Security Force, on their evening patrol.

CISF officials confiscate coal from children at Jharia, Jharkhand || Photograph Courtesy: Ankit Singh

Extreme poverty forces many families to send children to scavenge for coal in the coal mines of Jharia. It is illegal but a common practice exposing children to a death trap of hazardous conditions. They walk in groups of five and are on the lookout for local police or in rare cases, CISF officials patrolling the village. Often, they drop whatever they have collected and run for cover when they are caught but on this occasion, there was no time to do that. After confiscating the coal, the officials warn the children and leave. The group of children walks back to the village blaming each other for not keeping a lookout for the army wale.

The coal mine bordering the village has been burning for over a hundred years and the village will soon be a ghost town as the Jharia Action Plan aims to rehabilitate over three lakh people living on the edge of the mines. However, the lives of the people living in the village are intrinsically linked to coal and many relocated residents make the journey back from their new homes to work in the coal mines surrounding Jharia.

Place: Jharia, Jharkhand

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