Broken nails are possibly the least of all the horrors of mica scavenging in and around abandoned mines in the eastern Indian province of Jharkhand. Exploitative child labour, death by suffocation in mining shafts, severe health hazards such as tuberculosis for the impoverished workers who have nothing else to turn to for a living are issues that need more immediate attention.
But for Seeta Devi, who scrapes mica from the ground with her bare hands in an abandoned mine at Domchanch administrative block in Koderma district, daily injuries to her working hands are a clear and present danger. She says she coughed blood a few months ago but has no alternative other than returning to scavenging every day.
“We do not have any other alternative livelihood. We have to scrape for mica despite the risk. I feel breathless sometimes and even vomit blood,” says the 40-year-old woman, shying away from her photo being snapped because she fears being punished for working illegally. “But what options do I have? The dug up pits not only give us a livelihood but will also serve our graves.”