Every year, the mines slows down and stops at the onset of monsoon, and then resume after harvest. Right now, the stone pits are still full of green water from the rains.
The work is on pause for everyone to return from home after Diwali. Many young men, a few women whose homes are nearby, who did not leave, sit around tea shops, and in the common spaces waiting. When they speak, they are not in the mood of a break or rest, as they wait for the full mine operation to start in another fifteen days. Over and over, they repeat: What else to do but this, but this. This kills but we must do this this.
They seem to say: this work seems to ruin our lives when it exists, and if we are replaced by machines, then even the last resort of wage work on this arid land no longer exists.
Nand Lal, a middle aged miner, has worked in the mines breaking stones for the same contractor forty years, since he was ten, till he fell too ill to work. He was treated for tuberculosis for five years. A year and a half back, the hospital diagnosed him with silicosis, a fatal respiratory diseases from inhaling fine mine dust over the years.
In late afternoon languor, slumped by the temple wall, Nand Lal Bhil and Ratan ji Bhil cracked one morbid joke after another about Nand Lal’s impending death. “I almost left the house, then I got stuck in the hedges and came back,” Nand Lal said. “But I have a ticket (Silicosis certificate) from the Government. At any point, I may have to leave again..”
“I had energy, enthusiasm, health, everything. Then one day life took it all, like grime from skin.”
“This is how disease, death befalls.” he said.
“It strikes you, like lightening.”
My research paper on work in the mines of Bijolia, Rajasthan, with interviews with Nand Lal and other mine workers here.