The disaster has cast an uncomfortable light on how some of the wealth in cities like Shillong comes from the narrow, unstable tunnels of the rat-hole mines in the countryside.
KSAN, Meghalaya — On 11 December, Melambok Dkhar (22), Dimonme Dkhar (20), Shalabas Dkhar (20), three cousins from Lumthari village in the East Jaintia Hills district, showed up at the illegal ‘rat-hole’ coal mines of Ksan to earn a little extra money for Christmas.
“From the bottom of the mine, the light of the surface literally looked this small — that was what they told me after their first day,” said Pressmeky Dkhar, bringing his thumb and index finger together. Pressmeky is Melambok and Dimonme’s youngest uncle. “The brothers never wanted to work at the mine for too long — just to make some quick money, help at home, and spend during the Christmas season.”
Three days later, the cousins were amongst the 15 miners trapped when waters from the adjacent Wah Lytein river flooded the mineshaft. Now, as Christmas gives way to the new year, the families of these three young pillars of the Lumthari village community are slowly giving up hope of ever seeing their sons alive.
“They really loved to be involved in the church activities,” said Pressmeky. “Dimonme is the president of the Seng Samla.” Seng Samlas are local youth organisations in Meghalaya.
While the fate of Meghalaya’s trapped miners has briefly caught the attention of the national press, in the capital of Shillong, the news has cast an uncomfortable light on a dirty secret that many in the state’s growing urban middle class would prefer to ignore — that some of the wealth in the city comes from the narrow, unstable tunnels of the rat-hole mines in the countryside.
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