Miners’ Lives

The drowning  of miners, in mid December 2018, who were working  manually, in rat hole mines in agricultural land, in the Jaintia hills in Meghalaya, came as a  severe shock to readers of newspapers. However, they  naturally presumed that the State would handle it, and went back to their duties. What a shock it was, when no help was forthcoming, and the miners died the most terrible and tragic death, where the water rushes in, and the lungs burst, and their tears wash away in the mud, and their screams cannot be heard. They would have thought of their families in those last seconds, being aware that they had not thought that when they left home, they would never see their homes again.

Rockets to Mars, and the space mission are domestic subjects of great pride. However, rural populations are left to their own devices. When the State camouflages as a political party with vested interests, then it dips into the exchequer to spend more money on defence, beat up the drums of battle, and cuts on those grants which provide relief to  the rural poor, such as medical aid and education.  JNU Professors, such as Mohan Rao, Geetha Nambissan and Rama Baru, have presented us with important data describing the prioritization of primary health care and school education in the post 1947 era. What followed was the rampant corporatization of these, when the rapid industrialization ideology placed itself over the economic bases of village India. Those who are biased toward rapid industrialization have not learned from the lessons that the 19 century placed before us. The genocide of the peasantry was a given, because the need to move faster and faster into modernism, factory production and rapid transport meant that whole villages would be decimated of their  working population. The move to Mars, and the six newly discovered hospitable planets  are only the  proverbial carrot to the donkey, since  humans are being told by the conglomerate elites of the war industry, combined with telecommunication, medicine and food industries, that the end is in sight, and lets just give up on planet earth.

Since there are no medical facilities available in rural areas, or viable schooling, the Alternatives project has gained momentum in India. People know that they have recourse to traditional healing, and so the State machinery has also promoted it as one way of thinking about palliative medicine as a back up for diseases like cancer and life style induced illnesses. What follows is the corporatization of  production of herbs to be found in hilly or mountainous areas. The tribals are pushed out of their homes as a result of plantation economies which affect their way of life. Consequently they join the labour force, and the fight for wages is something that affects them on a daily bases.They travel vast distances, keeping with them their sense of honour about being wage workers, and survive with difficulty. The middle man, or contractor is always present to glean his commission from the little that they earn.

Philanthrophy in India is still a minimal contribution  usually made to a religious organization, and shown as tax deductible.  This is a good economic measure which benefits those who are in power, as not only do they get to skim off large sums of money by cheating the poor of their citizenship rights, they also come away with an aura of having done their duty to them, by pledging petty sums. By using the idea of karma, the concept of religious duty is also fulfilled, as the philanthropist completes his ledger after providing tin sheds to workers, and crèches to the children of the working class. Like any other occupation, the charitable organization uses its profits to pay salaries and leave  a carbon trail of hotel stays, foreign visits and seminar lunches. The solution is proper wages and health and educational rights to workers, not charity.

Manual scavengers, and miners know that they are entering the bowels of the earth. They depend on luck, and accept their fate as the poorest of the poor. Jawaharlal Nehru University, for instance, has still not invested in a waste water removal truck, which the neighbouring IIT has. The manual scavengers, come to work on motorcycles, bringing their children along on some days when they cannot be looked after at home. The children watch their fathers divesting themselves of their  outer clothing and entering into the sewers without masks or gloves or sufficient compensation. No health insurance is provided to them. Sulabh Latrines has made a rational organization the bases of social reformation, the pioneer being a JNU trained Sociologist Dr Pathak, who was Prof Yogendra Singh’s student.

The construction of an engineering college is now being presented to the Faculty as fait accompli decision of the vice chancellor, Prof Jagadish Kumar, who has allegedly taken a loan, and has placed faculty as the loan debtors,  which means the faculty is  named as responsible for the loan repayment.  This  community news  follows a report in The Wire on 2nd April  2018 , that UGC has not promised the VC funding for his proposed college on JNU campus. Kerala has 168 engineering colleges, and its return to farming by the new age farmer is a response to the entropy induced by overbuild in its rice lands, and coastal zones.

Looking for body parts after a disaster is one of the most frightening aspects after a disaster. We have to return to the idea of being human and having empathy for others as a return to the normal, rather than succumbing to the vision of a selected few entering space crafts to enjoy the splendor of the universe.
(The author is an Indian sociologist, social anthropologist and a fiction writer)

Columnist: 
Susan Visvanathan