One way or another, however 'indirectly', the US is benefitting from this kind
of cheap labor -and all kinds of 'inequities' thruout the world and in this
country too. Why are we unable to 'fix' them? -because we're not as smart as we
think we are: Our institutionalized beliefs are
essentially the same as those first conjured up out of primitive ignorance by
our first-communities ancestors some 10-12,000 years ago -pecking order, god,
'I did it, so you owe me'. 'might is right' et cetera, et cetera.
We have become a nation of inept, talentless, unemployable, fuck-off 'wannabe
successes in Hollywood'. Society will not recover until we slam down the gates
of immigration, severely limit what management and retirement thinks it's worth
and, among other things, stop believing in god, 'natural rights and freedoms'
and trying to set the rest of the world 'right like us'.
ps - throttling Steve Jobs and such wouldn't hurt either.
May 15, 2011 Los Angeles Times
In northeast India coal towns, many miners are children
Perhaps thousands of underage workers as young as 8, lured by the wages, leave
school to work in coal mines under perilous conditions. The country officially
upholds mining safety standards and forbids child labor, but loopholes in state
laws allow widespread abuses.
By Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times
Reporting from Ladrymbai, India
The young miners descend on rickety ladders made of branches into the makeshift
coal mines dotting the Jaintia Hills in northeast India, scrambling sideways
into "rat hole" shafts so small that even kneeling becomes impossible. Lying
horizontally, they hack away with picks and their bare hands: Human labor here
is far cheaper than machines.
Many wear flip-flops and shorts, their faces and lungs
blackened by coal. None have helmets. Two hours of grinding work fills a cart
half the size of a coffin that they drag back, crouching, to the mouth where a
clerk credits their work. Most earn a dollar or two an hour.
"A big stone fell on a friend at a nearby mine last year, and
he died," said Sharan Rai, 16, taking a break near the entrance with his friend
Late Boro, 14. Both started mining when they were 12. "The owners didn't pay
the family anything. I try and check if the walls look strong before I go
A boy works at a coal depot near Lad Rymbai, India. (Daniel Berehulak / Getty
Images / April 16, 2011)
Sharan may be leaving this hazardous work behind. He quit
fourth grade years back, and an area civic group has persuaded him to return.
Late, from Assam state, who's never attended school and is illiterate, is more
"Let Sharan go off, play the big man," he said, fighting back
tears. "I'll cut coal. That's my life."
Thousands of children, some as young as 8, are believed to
toil alongside adults in the northeast mines; their small bodies are well
suited to the narrow coal seams. Many migrated legally from from Nepal or
illegally from neighboring Bangladesh, lured by the wages.
Deaths are undocumented but far from rare; medical care is
almost nonexistent. Many of the older children spend their pay on alcohol,
gambling and prostitutes. Some drift away; others keep working for decades.
India has a national mining law, plus a right-to-education
bill, and it has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the
Child, minus a few key clauses on the speed of implementation. But tribal land
rights in Meghalaya state trump some national laws, and other laws are largely
ignored, creating loopholes big enough to drive a coal truck through, activists
say. The rules are meant to protect cottage industries, but many mines are
owned by state and national lawmakers or their relatives.
"We know a few owners control everything," said Hasina
Kharbhih, founder of Impulse Network, a child rights group based in the
Meghalaya town of Shillong. "They get away scot-free."
Navigating the narrow shafts requires a slithering, snake-
like movement, and a foreigner's technique elicits laughter from miners, even
as an explosion in a neighboring mine rocks the walls.
The miners are unalarmed; Sharan says claustrophobia, intense
exhaustion and fear of collapsing walls ease after a few weeks. But the visitor
reemerges into the sunlight feeling damp, bruised and lucky to have
Commercial coal mining in India started in 1774 and has
boomed in recent years with the economy. Officially, India had 81 accidental
coal-mine deaths in 2009. But deaths in Meghalaya aren't recorded or
investigated, with most hushed up to avoid mines being shuttered.
The number of children working in the state's 5,000 coal
mines is a matter of dispute, with Impulse estimating tens of thousands and
local politicians putting it in the hundreds. Few dispute, however, that the
vast majority of India's underage coal miners work in Meghalaya.
Almost everyone knows someone who's died in the "death pits."
Three died recently after a shaft collapsed, four when a hopper fell.
"Responsible" mine owners pay $200-$500 for funerals, others
"If you die, it's your fate," said Shyam Rai, 22, who is not
related to Sharan and who's worked since he was 17. "I heard coal mines had
diamonds, but I sure haven't found any."
The nearest medical dispensary, selling little more than
aspirin, acne soap and herbal remedies, is a few miles away in Latyrke. "We
don't have much medicine," said Pintu Roy, a clerk at the dispensary. "If it's
serious, drive to Shillong," three hours away.
The miners are as careful as their limited resources and
skills allow. Sharan checks the mine shaft for the risk of collapse by tapping
"If it goes 'dung-dung,' it's bad; 'tak-tak,' it's OK," he
said. "Sure, you breathe in coal dust, but it doesn't hurt you."
State Mining Minister Bindo Lanong said reports of child
labor are exaggerated, that most children are just helping their parents, and
that a planned state law should curb excesses.
Mine owner Phillip Pala, whose brother serves in India's
parliament, said accidents happen only occasionally. "There's a risk in
everything," he said.
Jaintia Hills is India's Wild West. Merchants in shacks sell
boots, potato chips, booze and little else. Coal trucks, hand painted with
images of various gods, belch black smoke up the steep roads. "Life is Not
Forever," reads a sign on one.
Adult miners can earn $150 a week, a good wage. But many
squander the money.
"We try to convince people not to drink or meet strange
women," said Nirom Basumatary, the Biateraim Presbyterian Church's secretary.
"But we're not so successful."
Empty whiskey bottles litter the coal piles, line the
roadside and languish under the beds at Mid Valley Hotel, Ladrymbai's best.
"We sell 10,000 bottles of beer and booze daily," said Rama
Chandra, at one of 31 roadside liquor stores in a town of 8,000. "If I mined,
I'd drink lots too."
Dice and card games operate openly. "A try only costs 25
cents," a dice-game hustler in the main market yelled at transfixed gamblers.
Sharan steers clear. "If you win, they beat you up to get
their money back," he said.
Sharan, with a warm smile, a bandanna and a penchant for
stylish clothes when he's not mining, lives in a 15-by-20-foot mud-floored hut
beside the mine with seven family members. They cook on an open fire and sleep
on a fly-infested platform.
"There's a lot of drinking around here," said Devika Rai, 39,
Sharan's mother. "Men fight."
Late lives nearby with his sister-in-law. He hasn't seen his
parents in years. "I don't really have a dream," he said when asked, affecting
an uncaring air. "I just cut coal."
Parental ignorance, poverty and the money draw children to
the mines, activists say. Most are boys, but Kala Rai, 13, also not related to
Sharan, earned $25 a month dragging coal-laden carts after her father got sick,
before school officials lured her back. "I wasn't good at it," she said. "I'm
very happy to be back."
Mine-related aboveground jobs, cutting coal and unloading the
hopper, are less dangerous but pay less. Chhai Lyngdoh, 14, earns about $5 a
day to climb a slimy ladder and tip a 5,000-pound coal hopper repeatedly with
his slight body.
Meghalaya's government, with only seven labor inspectors and
no vehicle, all but ignores child labor and safety problems, keen to goose the
economy, critics said. Recently it acknowledged that 222 children worked in 20
villages mining and hauling coal and doing related jobs, but it has done
nothing to rescue them.
Sharan, meanwhile, looks forward to school, an opportunity
others won't have.
"I want to be a doctor," he said. "Then if someone's sick, I
can help them out."
Anshul Rana in The Times' New Delhi bureau contributed to this report.