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A peek into Jharkhand’s mica mines where child labour & illegal mining are no secret

The mica mining industry today operates via unlicensed middle men and labourers who scavenge for mica in large abandoned mines, or dig holes into the earth for scraps.

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Giridih, Jhumri Telaiya: For generations, families living in the Koderma and Giridih districts of Jharkhand have survived on the collection and trade of mica — a shimmery, translucent mineral used in cosmetics and automobiles.

The mining of mica was once a legal, thriving business that made India the biggest exporter of the mineral. But concerns about mining causing environmental damage led to the passage of the Forest Conservation Act of 1980, which bars non-forest activities, such as mining, from taking place in forested areas without clearances from the central government.

The mica mining industry is still operational — but it has taken a different shape. Corporations have been replaced by unlicensed middle men, and labourers scavenge for mica in large abandoned mines, or dig holes into the earth for scraps.

These scraps, known as ‘dhibra’, are sold for anything between Rs 3 and Rs 15 per kilo. For families that mine together, more hands means more money, and parents often take their children along.

Mica mining is also notorious for its involvement of child labour, which has been reported by the global media extensively. The problem, however, still persists, and is threatened by the Covid-19 induced lockdown which forced schools shut.

“I would go to school but the master (teacher) hasn’t come in months. I don’t know where this mica goes, but I’ve learned how to collect it,” 12-year-old Dhanashree told ThePrint as she squatted to collect ‘dhibra’.

A man walks across an abandoned mica mine in Bergiyatari, Giridih | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
A man walks across an abandoned mica mine in Bergiyatari, Giridih | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Girls scavenge for dhibra in Devanjot, Giridih | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Girls scavenge for ‘dhibra’ in Devanjot, Giridih | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Women break through rocks to extract pieces of mica in a mine near Kararitola village in Koderma district | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Women break through rocks to extract pieces of mica in a mine near Kararitola village in Koderma district | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Tulsi Rai displays the tools used by laborers to dig for mica scraps | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Tulsi Rai, a worker, displays the tools used by laborers to dig for scraps of mica | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
An abandoned mica mine in Bergiyatari, Giridih. Corporations once dug mica mines as big as this, before withdrawing from the industry once the Forest Conservation Act of 1980 was passed, baring any non forest activities in forest designated areas | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
An abandoned mica mine in Bergiyatari, Giridih. Corporations once dug mica mines as big as this, before withdrawing from the industry once the Forest Conservation Act of 1980 was passed | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Sani Rai stands inside a 30 foot underground cave he and a few others dug to collect mica scraps near Kararitola village in Koderma | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Sani Rai stands inside a 30-foot underground cave that he and a few others dug to collect mica scraps near Kararitola village in Koderma | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
A laborer sits at the periphery of the abandoned mica mine in Bergiyatari, Giridih | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
A labourer sits at the periphery of an abandoned mica mine in Bergiyatari, Giridih | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Vasanti, 21, walks across dug up caves, in search of mica | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Vasanti, 21, walks across dug up caves, in search of mica | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Vasanti, 21, collects scraps of mica, called dhibra, in Devanjot village in Giridih with a group of young women and girls | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Vasanti collects scraps of mica, called ‘dhibra’, at Devanjot village in Giridih with a group of other young women and girls | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Sani Rai and Tulsi Rai remove scraps of mica from the cave they dug | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Miners remove scraps of mica from the cave they dug | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Children in the abandoned Bergiyatari mine | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Children in the abandoned Bergiyatari mine | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Workers from the forest department, some of whom have left work scavenging for mica, return home after a day of work | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Workers from the forest department, some of whom have left work scavenging for mica, return home after a day of work | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint

 

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