Indian photographer Ronny Sen has won the Getty Images Instagram Grant this year for his work on the coal town of Jharia in Jharkhand, where underground fires have been burning for more than a hundred years. Sen has received $10,000 (Rs 6,70,244 approximately) for the project.
Sen told Scroll.in, "Jharia is a place where historically, everybody has failed, from the government to mafia to multinationals. And people need to see this reality, which almost looks like a post-apocalyptic world." Sen said his body of work is an attempt to highlight the lives of people who have been living for generations with underground fires burning beneath their homes. Several locals have left Jharia seeking better lives, Sen said, but there are still many others whose livelihoods depend on the coal mines, so they have learned to adapt.
One of the photos was shared by Instagram on September 19, and it got more than a million hits within a few hours. "I did not expect such overwhelming response," he said. His work will be showcased at the Photoville festival in New York from September 21, along with the work of the other winners of the grant – Christian Rodriguez of Uruguay and Girma Berta of Ethiopia.
The raging underground fires in the Jharia coal mines – an exclusive storehouse of prime coking coal – were first seen a century ago. They started spreading in the 1970s and more than 70 mine fires are still raging, polluting air, water and land and devastating the health of locals.