Emerging From Darkness
Dark. Black. Dusty. Beautiful. This hinterland in interior Jharkhand paints a vivid picture nuanced by an overpowering mood of being forgotten. Home to a proud indigenous people and several smaller tribal groups, Hazaribagh translates into a ‘thousand gardens’ — a far cry from the reality seen in the region today.
Hazaribagh is plagued by an inefficient governance mechanism that encroaches on more land every year to feed the increasing need for coal. Displacement, land encroachment, loss of forests and a deteriorating environment thanks to coal mining are only some of the challenges faced by the people in the region. The deterioration in the quality of soil, water and the strain on the local economy has only resulted in the entire production system shifting from simple agriculture to a more commercially profitable and seemingly viable coal industry.
Most government services and the self-governance system are either defunct or dysfunctional. The deplorable situation and lack of livelihood opportunities have permitted exploitation of families including children. From injuries to widespread illnesses and respiratory problems — coal mining has created unsafe and unhealthy work environments for adults and children alike. The unavailability of child immunisation, birth registration and widespread malnourishment only elevate these issues.
The children of Hazaribagh rarely attend school. Elder siblings in the family are forced to work or contribute in some other way to the meagre family income. If not, they are saddled with the responsibility of looking after livestock or caring for younger siblings. The schools in the area are almost always empty.
As a photographer, I try and work on at least one social project a year to raise awareness and funds for those living in difficult conditions. Visiting Hazaribagh made me realise how several parts of India are still nowhere close to the development we claim has been achieved. With this project I attempt to document the existing problems of coal mining and to showcase progress facilitated with the help of organisations such as the Swaraj Foundation that is supported by the premier Indian NGO CRY Child Rights and You.
So as you read this, rest assured there is some advancement for the marginalized sections in Hazaribagh. There is a good network of social organisations at the district level that understand the immediacy of reacting to children’s issues. Children are encouraged to attend school, and are offered free lunch as an incentive to get them out of the mines and into the classroom. This helps address the cause of education as well as nutrition —many of these children would otherwise have no access to a healthy meal. There are also regular health camps organised for child immunisation and for the treatment and prevention of malnutrition. Today, there are more than 6,000 children enrolled in schools and more than 1,500 children immunised and these numbers are increasing.
So work is being done against the most difficult of odds. But a lot more needs to be achieved to restore the rights of the marginalized and the childhoods of children in Hazirabagh.
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