The young miners descend on rickety ladders made of branches into the makeshift coal mines dotting Jaintia Hills in northeast India, scrambling sideways into “rat hole” shafts so small that even kneeling becomes impossible. Lying horizontally, they hack away with picks and their bare hands: Human labor here is far cheaper than machines.
Many wear flip-flops and shorts, their faces and lungs blackened by coal. None has a helmet. Two hours of grinding work fills a cart half the size of a coffin that they drag back, crouching, to the mine mouth, where a clerk credits their work. Most earn a dollar or two an hour.