How rat-hole mines in Assam are ‘eating up’ workers

If workers entering the rat-hole mines of Assam die, the families rarely get their bodies because those running the mines turn poor families away. Photo: Devojit Moran

It was just around 6 in the evening at Makun village in Assam’s Tinsukia district on January 12, but it was already dark. The darkness notwithstanding, for 24-year-old Urvashi Moran, everything seemed bright and beautiful. The next day whole of Assam was to celebrate the harvest festival of Magh Bihu, but the real reason Urvashi was looking forward to the day ahead was that her husband Pranjal Moran (28) was to return home to celebrate the festival with family. He had called to inform her about his impending visit just minutes ago from a friend’s phone.

Pranjal, who hailed from the Adivasi community, worked in Tinkusia’s rat-hole mines and didn’t visit home more than once a month for a maximum of two-three days. But on January 13, Pranjal did not visit despite his promise to his wife. Pranjal’s parents, wife Urvashi and the couple’s three-year-old son spent Magh Bihu in their mud-and-bamboo house waiting for him to return. Since the rat-hole mines are in areas where mobile network is mostly absent, there was no way Urvashi could have known.

Thinking her husband was caught up with work, Urvashi tried hard to appear patient, calming her in-laws and attending to her son. Deep within she was anxious and worried. A couple of days later when she still did not hear from Pranjal, Urvashi went to the nearest police station for help. The police were reluctant and officials turned her away refusing to even lodge a complaint, saying the matter wasn’t under their jurisdiction. On February 4, nearly a month after Pranjal had been missing, she managed to file a complaint at the Ledo Police Station in the heart of the coal mining belt in Tinsukia. But no action followed.

Urvashi was short on money and resources to find her husband, but her determination to find him didn’t fall short. She gathered a few men and women from her village and staged a protest in Guwahati, well over 450 km from her village Makun. As the local media picked up the story, the administration finally took note.

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