Society 27 January 2017 26 8730
Jharia in India is like a hellish scene from a demonic horror movie: perpetually wreathed in suffocating smoke from an underground fire that has been burning for 100 years. Jharia’s coal fields represent the country’s richest reserves but the people forced to live here remain steeped in poverty. For many, pilfering and selling small baskets full of coal from the quarry is the only opportunity to make a meagre living. Whole families, including little children, labour in dangerous and harmful conditions.
Living here is very risky: the ever-spreading pit of fire frequently consumes whole houses and blasting regularly shakes the whole village, damaging buildings and throwing plumes of coal dust into the air. High levels of carbon monoxide cause severe respiratory complaints among residents. Despite the danger, most families daren’t relocate because coal provides their only means of income.
Some residents have been moved out, though not voluntarily, they’ve been relocated to a specially built township. However, unemployment and an underdeveloped infrastructure makes them homesick and wish they had never left their burning homeland. Local activists are standing up for the rights of Jharia population, they believe the relocation is motivated not by concern for the people’s interests but to free up more land for the government owned mining company to exploit.
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