Ignored & invisible: Burden of mining on women

While loss of land and livelihood is a more commonly discussed impact of mining, an invisible impact is on local women who witness a disruption of social structures, burden of earning an extra income, long term mental health issues and a shift from independent cultivators to being dependent on others, besides an uptick in cases of sexual violence. Mayank Aggarwal of Mongabay India reports
Kusum, 14, and Pushpa, 12, (both names changed) ran away from their home in Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh in 2019, as their family didn’t have enough food to survive after losing land and livelihood to a mining project. The two finally returned this week, on January 19, to their maternal grandparents after spending about 18 months in a shelter home in Mumbai.
“Their families had thought these girls were dead. After losing everything to mining, their parents frequently migrate between Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh for work and even right now are not in the district. Fortunately, in Mumbai, the girls were rescued by a social organisation who kept them safely in a girl’s home. They educated them and trained them. They now returned after they revealed their real identity to the rescuers who contacted us and we traced their family,” Manju Singh, a member of district’s child welfare committee in Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh, told Mongabay-India.
The case of these two girls just scratches the surface of the transition that a mining project triggers.
When mining starts in any area, the loss of land and livelihood are the main areas of concern in most discussions. But one section of stakeholders that remain invisible in the discussion is women.
With socio-economic changes, a disrupted social structure and the added burden of earning an extra income to make ends meet the transition to a mining area brings about a shift where women, who were formerly independent cultivators, need to now depend on others for their and their family’s survival.
Researchers, civil society organisations and experts, including those working with mining-affected communities, note that they have recorded that many women, including teenage girls, are pushed into sex work or trafficking due to the lack of livelihood or other changes connected to mining.
Bhanumathi Kalluri, who is the director of Dhaatri Resource Centre for Women and Child Rights, explains that women are usually like an invisible component in the mining sector even as the impact on them and their lives are enormous.
“In India, most of the mining areas are either forests or areas that have a significant population of indigenous people. When mining starts in these areas, these people lose their land and livelihoods which ultimately impacts their whole family system. This transition is unfair on women who from being the cultivators become dependent on men or are pushed to undertake unorganised labour work. The worst part is that the mining debate in the country doesn’t even acknowledge women or their issues,” Kalluri told Mongabay-India.
Though under the Mines Act, 1952, employment of women in underground mines and in opencast mines during the night time was restricted, women employees groups, industry and students enrolled with various institutions doing mining engineering courses had been representing to the government to allow equal employment opportunity for women in mines.
This was changed in February 2019 when the central government removed the restrictions and also came out with guidelines for mine owners for framing standard operating procedures for the employment of women in mines.
However, even with the restriction on women from working in mines, they were always impacted, directly or indirectly.
Kalluri emphasises that mining has a domino effect on the lives of the locals as it impacts agricultural fields around mines, pollutes the water bodies and disturbs the groundwater levels while noting that “women bear the brunt.”
“Women (we have interacted with) often complain that it is not just the yield that goes down but also whatever they grow is laced with chemicals. As a result, their health is disturbed, the cattle fall ill and it is the women who are burdened to ensure clean water. Women who work in agricultural fields close to mining operations develop skin rashes and other health problems but there is absolutely no debate about the impact on them or requirement of considering steps to address them even when they are the primary actors while men migrate for work,” she added.
49-year-old tribal community leader Indu Netam, who has been associated with tribal community for mining, forest and livelihood related issues for the last 30 years in Chhattisgarh, said, “The impact of mining on women is not a simple straightforward one but it disturbs every aspect of their lives.”
“In the tribal-dominated areas where mining has now taken over, the tribal women used to go to the jungle to collect forest produce in groups with others – for them, the value of the forest produce doesn’t matter much but the time they spend together is important for them. Their social structure is disturbed. But after they lose their land and forests to mining, the mental pressure increases on them. They are forced to work in houses of other people for money and this marks their journey from being independent to being dependent on others for survival,” Netam told Mongabay-India.
Mining leads to an uptick in sexual violence against women
It is not just the land use, wildlife or biodiversity that changes when mining starts in an area, the lives of many of the women changes irreversibly – some are forced into sex work while some are trafficked to other parts of the country on the pretext of better opportunities.
Netam, who belongs to the Gond tribe and lives in the north Bastar region of Chhattisgarh, said while women seek all kind of labour work or domestic work for survival, their “physical exploitation has become a usual affair” and the “worst part is that they don’t even have a space to protest.”
“Even if they try sometimes, such cases are suppressed. Moreover, there is this stigma of being the society not accepting them after sexual abuse,” said Netam, who is the convener of the Adivasi Jan Van Adhikar Manch, a network of indigenous people.
The story of sexual exploitation of women in mining-affected areas or them being trafficked is the same across the major mining areas across the country whether it is Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka or Madhya Pradesh.
Manju Singh highlighted that there are 650 sex workers, who are registered in the Singrauli area, and the majority of them are connected to the mining-affected families.
In fact, experts note that there are so many layers of impact on the lives of women in mining areas including mental health issues.
Bhanumathi Kalluri noted that if one takes “Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand or any other major mining area for example there are clear routes of trafficking from where young girls are taken for sex work or labour work to bigger cities like Delhi and Mumbai.”
“For the mining-affected families, sending the girls out for work is not an option but a forced decision as their survival depends on them in absence of a proper livelihood strategy after losing their land. The influx of hundreds of trucks also increases the vulnerability of young girls and women. The social structure of the area completely transforms – we have documented so many cases of single unwed mothers who were left behind by men who were stationed in those mining areas for limited times,” said Kalluri while stressing that there is a vicious cycle of the impact of mining on livelihood and emotional health of women.
Is there any effort to train and help mining-affected women?
Mining in an area is for a few decades but the mining-affected families, many of whom belong to tribal communities, face an irreversible change in their lives. For instance, there are young girls whose education gets disturbed or who don’t get any training to earn their livelihood.
“Most of the girls in our area are educated till the eighth standard because of lack of schools and in some cases, their schools are far away from the homes which become difficult – as crossing mining-affected regions and reaching the school becomes an impossible task,” said Manju Singh, who is originally from Bihar but has been in the region since 1994 after she got married.
Singh states that the transition in the lives of women happens at so many levels and women were earlier working in fields or other connected jobs but the displacement for mining projects changed their life forever and for worse.
“In addition to the exploitation, the sad part is that no fund – corporate social responsibility (CSR) or the district mineral foundation (DMF) – ever looks at women as an important stakeholder. They are never offered any job opportunities that are connected to the market,” said Singh.
Manju Singh was also displaced due to a government mining project but she points out that companies claim to give all facilities like health and education to mining-affected people but in reality there is nothing.
Meanwhile, it is not the impact of mining on women while mining happens that requires attention, the period after closure of the mine is an important cog in the wheel of transition in a mining area.
Experts believe that perhaps the first thing that authorities can start with while addressing concerns of women affected by mining operations is to acknowledge that it happens and then estimate their number.
Bhagya Lakshmi of Sakhi Trust, who has been working for the last 20 years for women in the mining-affected areas of Karnataka including Ballari, said what they have found is that the concerns of the communities are neither addressed while the mining is going on or even when they are closed.
“There are less or negligible facilities for water, toilet, health, education, livelihood – just no alternative. The communities are forced to migrate to fields for sugarcane cutting or coffee plantations and there are so many health issues,” Lakshmi told Mongabay-India. (Trans World Features)

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