“Today the migrant worker experiences, within a few years, what the working population of every industrial city once experienced over generations. To consider his life – its material circumstances and his inner feelings – is to be brought face to face with the fundamental nature of our present societies and their histories. The migrant is not on the margin of modern experience – he is absolutely central to it.”
In the summer of 2015, I got an opportunity to travel across the states of West Bengal and Jharkhand to photograph the struggles of migrant labourers from the area.
Migrant workers travel to places they can find employment. Some, just for a season before returning home. Others, from city to city, constantly looking for work.
My journey took me through many regions of Eastern India which come under consistent pressure to fulfil the demands of a vast and rapidly developing country and its dependency on fossil fuels. It is a bleak and naturally striking setting: poverty-stricken, remote and forgotten people and their struggles in the face of a lucrative future.
The black diamond express connects all important coal mines and steel cities of eastern India between Howrah and Dhanbad. The incessant mining and the underground fire that has been burning here for almost a century has contaminated everything: the soil, the water and the air.
Kankanee colliery is an example which has caused continuous unstable grounds over the years. At stake are the health and lives of thousands who live in the area. The extremely important railway link between Adra and Gomoh also passes over the underground fires.
The ground reality is that the migrants’s distress is enormous. A basic overview of this complex phenomenon makes clear that in spite of the vast contributions that migrants make to India’s economy, their social and legal protections remain sparse.
There needs to be a concerted national strategy that ensures urban integration of migrants and their access to basic entitlements and work conditions. These are important pathway to social progress.
All photos by Abhishek Basu.
Abhishek Basu is a freelance photographer based out of Jamshedpur , Jharkhand. He is currently working with different forms of digital publishing.