‘Fireflies In The Abyss’ Is A Sobering Look At The Lives Of Meghalaya Coal Miners – by Suprateek Chatterjee (HuffPost India – July 7, 2016)


Filmmaker Chandrashekhar Reddy recalls the first time he stepped inside a coal mining pit. It was in mid-2012, near Lad Rymbai, Meghalaya. It was pitch-black, of course, and he could feel the oxygen levels falling as he descended down a slippery wooden ladder, terrified that he might fall off.

When he got to the bottom, he realised he lacked the flexibility to actually navigate the tunnels, the so-called ‘rat holes’, which are barely big enough for a fully grown adult to crawl through. “I had to be put in a cart and wheeled around in turns by some of the other men working there,” he said, in a conversation with HuffPost India.
“Despite the lack of oxygen, I saw some of them smoking in there, which, from my knowledge, is quite dangerous, as every mining activity results in the release of methane, which is flammable.”

Reddy had the good fortune of being educated enough to fully understand all the dangers of spending close to eight hours a day working in mines such as these. The subjects of his recently released documentary Fireflies In The Abyss, however, either do not or have no choice.

One of them is an 11-year-old boy named Suraj, whose family hails from Nepal. In the film, we see him, a sprightly young lad with one bad eye but plenty of enthusiasm, crawling easily into the ‘rat holes’ of the area’s labyrinthine mines: part of an illegal operation that was only officially banned by the state in April this year.

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