Coronavirus lockdown | Amputee former miner offers hope of an option in Meghalaya

Sisfulfor Dkhar.

Sisfulfor Dkhar.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Dumped by owner of a rat-hole coal mine after onsite accident, he now weaves and sells cane baskets for a living

Sisfulfor Dkhar followed a risky routine for more than a decade after rat-hole coal mining became illegal in Meghalaya in April 2014: hop into a makeshift crane to be lowered into a pit 200-250 ft deep, crawl into horizontal holes branching out like the veins of a leaf and prise chunks of coal with a pickaxe.

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An accident almost a year ago changed his life forever.

He now sells bamboo baskets that he began weaving during the first phases of the COVID-19 lockdown. The baskets, of different sizes and shapes for different needs, fetch him a fraction of what he earned “by becoming black as coal” whenever the owner of the coal mine near his village Musniang sought his services.

“Last year, I fell about 3 ft from the edge of a rat-hole onto a heap of mined coal at the bottom of the pit,” Mr. Dkhar told The Hindu by phone from his village on Tuesday. “My right leg was injured and it bled profusely,” he added.

Situated about 90 km from Meghalaya’s capital Shillong, Musniang is near Ladrymbai, one of the coal-mining hubs in the East Jaintia Hills district.

“The leg had to be amputated but the owner, a woman, did not provide any financial assistance nor did any of her managers enquire about my health. I had to spend much of the ₹25,000 I had earned in four months of dangerously digging for coal,” said Mr. Dkhar, a 27-year-old father of two and one of nine siblings.

Recovering from amputation and getting over the loss of his limb took some time until Shillong-based activist Agnes Kharshiing, who has been vocal against the “politically-blessed mafia” controlling the clandestine coal business, advised him to focus on his strengths.

As the people around him despaired over the lack of work due to the lockdown, Mr. Dkhar got down to doing what he knew best before deciding to “make big money” from mining coal. He fetched bamboo, made strips and wove the baskets.

Baskets weaved by Sisfulfor Dkhar.

Baskets weaved by Sisfulfor Dkhar.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“I make anywhere between ₹50-60 to at best ₹150-200 a day by selling them in the markets. This is a pittance compared to what I earned, but at least I am doing my own thing and not pursuing a hazardous job,” he said.

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“He is a ray of hope for poor villagers who were conditioned into not looking at life beyond coal mining,” said Ms. Kharshiing, who heads an NGO, Civil Society Women’s Organisation. “We hope his enterprise rubs off on the local people who need to reclaim much of their lands polluted by mining activities over the years,” she added.

Ms. Kharshiing and co-activist Amita Sangma were brutally assaulted in November 2018 by a mob that was allegedly comprised of mine owners’ associates as well as some coal miners. She underwent treatment for a month at a super-speciality hospital in Shillong after having been in a coma for more than a week.

In December 2018, at least 17 miners — mostly Muslims from neighbouring Assam — perished in a flooded coal mine at Ksan in the East Jaintia Hills district. The mishap spot is not far from where Ms. Kharshiing and Ms. Sangma were attacked.

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Printable version | Jul 12, 2020 8:43:22 AM |

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