Silicosis Kills: Rajasthan’s Mine Workers Beg to Be a Poll Issue

Silicosis Kills: Rajasthan’s Mine Workers Beg to Be a Poll Issue

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Video Editor: Rahul Sanpui
Cameraperson: Aishwarya S Iyer

The state of around 22,000 mine workers, who say they have symptoms of Silicosis, is reflective of the Rajasthan government's ignorance of a fatal consequence that affects the poorest of the poor. From demanding their rights, the mine workers have been reduced to pleading that their lives be important rallying points in the run up to the elections.

Silicosis is a fatal respiratory disease that is contracted from Silica dust that enters the lungs of mine workers when they work on granite, sandstone and marble mining sites. For the poor across Rajasthan, working in these industries provides an essential source of livelihood.

But what provides them their food and water, soon incapacitates them from working at all. They find it exceedingly hard to breathe as the disease progresses, eventually killing them within four to five years.

On the Supreme Court’s directions, they are supposed to get Rs 1 lakh relief from the state when they contract the disease and another Rs 3 lakh when the person dies. But many like Ram Singh, whom The Quint met in Rajasthan’s Bhilwara district, have been waiting for their money for the last 17 months.

“I have Rs 2.5 lakh debt and about Rs 1.5 lakh I have spent on my treatment. I know I will not be able to repay my debt. How do I repay Rs 2.5 lakh in this state?” Singh asks with a dread in his eyes. When asked if people repeatedly inquire about the money, he says, “Yes, this guy called me 2-4 days ago and said, "Sell your house and return our money." They say things like this, what do I do?” he says helplessly.

Not too far away we met another Ram Singh who got his money after a year of getting his certificate, but lives his life in constant dread.

His disease has progressed and he fears he could die anytime. The impact of the disease has left him lonely. While the lives of others move ahead around him, he stays constricted.

“I have to just stay alone and sit by myself in one lonely place. Going out, meeting people, eating, drinking, meeting family, can't do anything. So it is better than this disease that I die. My kids get scared thinking that their father might die,” he says, adding that he knows this will be his death.

The Quint met Nikhil Dey from Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, who spoke about the need of compensation rather than relief for the Silicosis patients, also adding, “Silicosis is, to my mind symptomatic of how strange elections are. That really is an idea that somewhere our elections are losing touch with even things as tragic as this.”

Talking about compensation, he said, “Actually there should be compensation from those mining concerns who are earning a lot, but that does not happen because these people's names don't come on the roll. The bulk of mining in the country is illegal so they don't exist on paper.”

When asked about the impending elections, Ram Singh says, “Whoever wins and forms government, why are you helping the wealthy and not the poor? Like me and so many other unprivileged people. In Rajasthan's Bhilwara there is no other work, everyone works in the mining sector. The government should look into it specifically and help them. If you help them, god will bless you.”

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