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Residents of two places, voters of none

- Displaced by CCL projects, fuel coal sellers from Hazaribagh have no election ID
Fuel coal being ferried near Rarha in Ranchi district on Tuesday. Picture by Hardeep Singh

While Narendra Modi was busy addressing a rally in Hazaribagh, a group of 12 fuel coal sellers from the district got ready for another arduous three-day journey for livelihood some 40km away in Rarha under Ranchi constituency.

Much as they would have wanted, the youths aged between 18 and 50 couldn’t have listened to the BJP prime ministerial candidate who is tom-toming the Gujarat growth story as the perfect development model for the country.

“Modiji aaj Hazaribagh aaye hain, par unka bhasan sunne jayenge to mahina ke lag bhag aat hazar ki kamai se ek hazar ghat jayega. (Modiji has come to Hazaribagh. But if we go to listen to him, we will lose around Rs 1,000 of the Rs 8,000 that we earn every month),” said 19-year-old Anand Mahto.

Not that it would have made much of a difference in their lives considering that Anand and his companions are residents of Urimari, Hazaribagh, in name only.

Displaced when the CCL took over their land around 1980s to come up with collieries in and around Urimari, they don’t feature on the voter list.

Unka bhasan desh ko mubarak ho, kya kar sakenge woh humare liye (Let the entire country listen to his lecture, what can do for us)?” asked the boy, who has recently enrolled with Bhurkunda College for intermediate studies but is also the lone bread earner for his eight-member family.

Humara joint family tha. Pata nahi kaise chacha ke bete ko naukri mil gaya aur hum sab beghar ho gaye. Bachpan se hi dalal se koyla lekar dhulai ka kaam kar raha hoon. Kismet achhi hai isliye thoda padh bhi liye hain. (Ours was a joint family. I don’t know how suddenly my uncle’s son got a job (in CCL) and we all became homeless. I had been ferrying coal purchased from middlemen since childhood. It was my good luck that I managed to study a little as well),” he added.

Like Anand, around 1,200 residents of Urimari are fighting for a hand-to-mouth existence every day since being displaced.

“So many films, documentaries and stories have been made on us, but they did nothing to change our lives. Neither can it ever change because our wishes hardly make a difference to the powers that be,” said 20-something Mohan, who lives in Paseria adjacent to Urimari.

The toil that these coal labourers put in to sell coal and run their families sure merits a reel take.

“We start around 2 or 3 in the morning. With coal loaded on our cycles, we pedal our way to Rarha village and reach around 2pm-3pm. Rarha under Kanke block is at a high altitude. Ranchi is higher. So, we all spend the night in Rarha and when day breaks, we reach the city and sell coal,” said Rajkumar while describing their arduous journey covering a distance of 70km (from Urimari to Ranchi).

In Rarha village, they have temporary shelters where they spend around 15 nights every month.

“There are around 1,200 of us, aged between 15 and 55 years, who are involved in this trade. We earn around Rs 8,000 a month,” he added.

One cycle can carry around 1.5 quintals of coal, which fetches around Rs 1,800. But procuring and selling the fuel is not an easy job.

“We buy raw coal for Rs 400, then burn it to make fuel coal. During the course of the three-day journey, we spend around Rs 800 on police while passing through Patratu Ghati, food and shelter,” added another seller, Chakri Oraon.

But do they believe their life will change if a new government is elected to power at the Centre?

Kaise sambhav hoga? Aadha bela hum Urimari mein rahte hain, aadha Rarha mein, aur thode samay ke liye Ranchi mein. Hum visthapith log fir kidhar ke huye? (How will it be possible? We spend half our days in Urimari, half in Rarha and a few days in Ranchi. Displaced people like us belong to which place then)?” asked Oraon.

Is anyone listening?