When India went into lockdown last March and Tota Rai lost his cleaning job in the textile hub of Surat, he knew working in the illegal mica mining industry back home was his only option.
Rai, 45, and his three sons – two adults and one teenager – now spend their days scavenging for scraps of the valued mineral used to put the sparkle into make-up and car paint and in electronics to sell to local traders in eastern Jharkhand state.
But as the pandemic drives more families to mica, residents, researchers and campaigners have voiced concerns over failings by the government and private sector to regulate the often fatal trade sourced from abandoned mines and to create other jobs.
A Thomson Reuters Foundation expose in 2016 found children dying in derelict mines in three states with families paid “blood money” to stay silent, prompting vows by brands to clean up supply chains and authorities to legalize and regulate mica.
Rai said his job as a hostel cleaner paid 5,000 rupees ($68) monthly but now he was fortunate to make 50 rupees a day selling mica gathered outside mines shuttered in the 1980s amid laws to limit deforestation and as alternatives to natural mica emerged.
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