mining tragedy

India’s nuclear dream is turning out to be a nightmare for Adivasis in Jharkhand

The deaths of three miners near Jamshedpur underlines the meaningless choice between joblessness and working in hazardous uranium mines.

Sonaram Kisku, a 24-year-old Adivasi worker, was following his daily schedule on May 28 when he entered the deepest level of the 260 meters deep Turamdih Uranium Mine, six kms from Jamshedpur in Jharkhand, at 7 am.

By 11 am, he was buried with 10 other co-workers under the wet radioactive slurry that they were clearing. He died with two other mine workers, SK Singh and Milan Karmakar.

But Kisku was not supposed to be there.

First, because the slurry that he was removing with his co-workers is not supposed to be removed manually. This slurry of stones and waste, left after the uranium ore is extracted, contains radioactive material. It is supposed to be removed by automated machines and flushed to the tailing dam outside the mines through huge pipes, with water flowing at high speed. The Uranium Corporation of India Limited might have resorted to manual clearing of slurry due to shortage of water, explained nuclear physicist Surendra Gadekar.

Second, Kisku was a contractual worker and not a permanent employee of the Uranium Corporation. Contractual and unskilled labour is generally kept away from the high sensitive zones of the inherently dangerous uranium mining. But the corporation has resorted to the practice of employing contractors, who in turn employ subcontractors to get cheap labour on temporary basis.

Xavier Dias, a veteran activist working on Adivasi rights in Jharkhand for more than two decades, said it was particularly noteworthy that of the other two who lost their lives, “one of the employees was the Safety Inspector and the other was a foreman – which means that there was some kind of crisis management going on before the accident took place.”

Employing contractual workers also helps the Uranium Corporation in shifting the responsibility to the contractor. Apart from the wages, even the protective uniform given to the contractual workers by the contractors is qualitatively worse than the one given to the Uranium Corporation employees.

The exposure to radioactivity makes the whole mining process, maintenance and emergency response much more challenging and the workers therefore need to be equipped with high-quality safety gears.

Cost cutting

What is even more shocking is the findings of a Right to Information report, which show that these contractors do not even have a licence.

The name of the worker who filed the RTI is hidden on his request.
The name of the worker who filed the RTI is hidden on his request.

The daily wage workers are employed by a contractor, Triveni Singh, and not the corporation, said CS Sharma, the Human Resource head of the Uranium Corporation.

“Which government department doesn’t employ contract workers these days?” Singh said, when asked if it is normal for the corporation to send contractual workers inside the mine.

The Occupational Safety and Health Association of Jharkhand in Jamshedupur has demanded a thorough-probe, questioning the malpractices by labour contractors and the corporation management. The obsessive focus on cost-cutting led to a criminal neglect of basic safety practices by the Uranium Corporation, said Samit Kar of the association.

However, the Adivasis of Jadugoda have no resort but to work in these dangerous mines. Kisku belonged to the second generation of Turamdih Adivasi community who were promised permanent jobs in the Uranium Corporation when they were displaced from their homes. However, like Kisku, many remain on temporary or no jobs.

The Turamdih mine has witnessed a series of workers’ disputes since it came into operation. As recently as 2013, there was a police crackdown on Adivasis working in the mine when they demanded permanent jobs, access to health facilities and other amenities like school for their children.

Photo by Ashish Biruli
Photo by Ashish Biruli

Radiation exposure

Perpetual job insecurity and poverty after losing their land and livelihood are, however, not the only threat to the local community. Had Kisku not died in this accident, he would have most likely died a slow and painful death due to radiation exposure. The link between radiation exposure and cancer has been established indisputably in various studies based on experiences from Hiroshima to Chernobyl and uranium mining sites across the world.

A health survey conducted by Surendra Gadekar’s team around the area of Jadugoda mines shows the harmful consequences of radiation, ranging from skin diseases to infertility and cancer. There have been a number of studies establishing the impact of radiation from uranium mines in Jadugoda on the surrounding population and the environment, including one by the Indian Doctors for Peace and Democracy.

A recent study by Adrian Levy of the Centre for Public Integrity in the US revealed that dangerous levels of radiation were found in West Bengal, nearly 400 km downstream of the Subarnarekha river in which the Uranium Corporation routinely dumps its waste. But the nuclear establishment remains in denial, terming the study a work of foreign hands. However, as recently as last week, the Ministry of Environment and Forests instructed the Uranium Corporation to look into the violations of the Forest Conservation Act and the mining lease at India’s oldest uranium mine, in Jadugoda. In 2014, the Ranchi High Court had taken note of media reports about deformities around Jadugoda and instructed the Uranium Corporation to initiate an enquiry.

Ghanshyam Biruli, local activist and founder of Jharkhandi Organisation Against Radiation, believes that the newly opened mines of Turamdih, Bandhohurang and Mohuldih are even more dangerous than Jadugoda. Ghanshyam, a native of Jadugoda, has been raising the issue of radiation for more than a decade. “The company employs all methods to keep us away from any public hearing,” he said. In January, his son Ashish Biruli tried entering a public hearing, but the local Uranium Corporation employees deployed at the gate begged him to return for the sake of their jobs.

The dismissal of employees is not an empty threat, confirmed Sagar Besra, who was fired from Turamdih mines for raising concerns over negligence of safety norms. He is still fighting in the High Court what he claims to be a fabricated case against him by the company. Besra is not alone. There are many permanent and temporary workers dismissed by the company using various pretexts and fictitious police charges are often levelled by using other hapless Adivasis.

Arjun Samad, a fiery young activist respected by the whole community, has been fighting an unequal battle against the company since he was 14 and put in jail on the charge of murder in 2005. Samad has only recently been acquitted and said that he has also been offered bribes and jobs, been labelled anti-national and even been threatened to stop voicing his opinion. Dumka Murmu of Jharkhandi Organisation Against Radiation said that those opposing uranium mining are often called traitors, anti-nationals and even Pakistani agents.

Prerna Gupta is a student at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. Kumar Sundaram is a researcher associated with the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.