January 19; Godda, Jharkhand
On September 7th of last year, residents of Lohandia village in Jharkhand sat on a strike near the familiar mining site of Eastern Coalfields Limited. The vibrations emanating from the blasts for coal extraction has cracked the walls of villagers’ houses. “A child was injured by the debris that fell from the ceiling,” a resident told Community Correspondent Mary Nisha Hansda, whose relatives are effected by the same.
After two days of strike and an unsuccessful negotiation, the contractors filed a case against the protestors — for not showing up to work. The blasting range only goes higher with time at coalmines — extraction becomes difficult as we try to go deeper, having swept the surface. If it continues unchecked, the whole village will soon be reduced to puddles of cement and bricks. At a time when the government should be reducing the blasting range with alacrity, considering they are people’s representatives, the response was chilling.
As the protesters — women and children included — waited for a solution to emerge; police, middlemen and contractors sat down to talk. The aggrieved party was not even part of the discussion. Soon, the Police Sub-Inspector came to forcefully disband the protesters. “They beat us up, and fired their guns at us,” Kiran Devi recalled later. “We are no terrorists and they had weapons. We had nothing in our hands.”
Eastern Coalfields Limited (ECL) is a subsidiary of Coal India Limited — a state owned private enterprise. ECL was formed in 1975, when the private coalmines were nationalised by then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi to revamp poor working conditions of labour. It is ironical that the people of Lohandia were failed by the very public company that was formed to make things better for them.
It is instructive, however, to see how far away public enterprises have come from the core value on which they were conceived — public service. The interests of the residents are not even considered anymore in India’s unquenchable thirst for natural resources. Environmental consequences will surely follow soon, but the repercussions of corporate greed will be immediate. 250 families of Lohandia village will not have a roof on their heads.
Incidents like this barely get covered in conversations about how mining will bring economic benefit to the country; protests on the ground get projected as nuisances rather than genuine concerns. What is the point of journalistic institutions if people’s voices get blocked out of their air-conditioned offices? Community Correspondent Nisha, on the other hand, lives with these people and is trying to bring their voices out. The marginalised people who are discriminated against find their platform through her videos. “I made this video because I am one of them,” CC Nisha said later.
The CC is still trying to change the status quo that has existed far too long — fighting for the rights of her community, alone. So far, this has resulted in empty howlers of promises, but when she succeeds, we will update you. Meanwhile, you can call the District Collector of Godda district at +91-9431134597 and ask that mining range be reduced to a point where the locals can feel safe in their own house.