In the absence of safety gear, silica mine workers suffer the worst consequences

Shankargarh, a block along the south-western fringes of Allahabad district in Uttar Pradesh, is widely known as a large supplier of silica sand to the glass industry. The area is rocky and unfit for cultivation, leaving its major inhabitants- the Kol tribe, and Chamar and Kumbi castes little option but to engage in stone quarrying and sand mining.

 Given that stone is a crop that can be harvested throughout the year-barring days of heavy rainfall- whole families engage in breaking silica rocks for a living and consequently breathing silica dust.

In this picture, 30-year-old Raju, a Chamar-Uttar Pradesh's largest caste, is seen on a cot in his courtyard. A year of silicosis, a respiratory disease caused by inhaling silica dust, has left him inactive-a double-blow to his impoverished family.

"You would not have recognized him had you seen him a year ago. He was fit and healthy, and worked hard at the mines," says his distraught wife. Since his illness, she has taken over the mantle of securing income to their house, while her mother-in-law babysits their two children.

Long hours at the silica mines have for years drawn quarry labourers to silicosis, locally also referred to as Shankargarhwali-TB.

For an area where men engaged in quarrying have a short life span, showing symptoms of the deadly disease in their twenties-thirties, Raju's family is not too hopeful.

There are fewer cases of reported deaths today. Officials might even believe that the inhabitants are much more aware of the health hazards of the activity-more accessible routes and small-scale health centres have come up. But for the quarry labourer, the risks are the same.