A Day in a Mine Field
Text and photos
SHAH ZAMAN BALOCH
Curiosity about the life and times of coal miners set me off to Balochistan recently. One early morning, I saw a convoy of about a hundred trucks. My friend, who was also a local, told me that these trucks move in a convoy because they are attacked by fighters.
My mind harked back to July last year, when the police found the bodies of seven coal miners who were kidnapped. There is a strong perception among the locals that their natural resources are being exploited.
I could not go deep into the mines but got an opportunity to meet the coal miners, who were excited to see a camera in my hand. They had never seen a camera in their lives. Being a photographer, I found their faces to be really striking; their coal lined eyes told the story of their arduous lives.
These coal miners are very poor. Interestingly, most of them come from different parts of the country and very few are, in fact, from Balochistan. Though these coal miners lead a very tough and uncertain life in terms of security, they have no choice but to work here since most of them are uneducated and poverty-stricken.
The coal reserves in Pakistan are the fourth largest in the world and the majority of these lie in Balochistan. Due to the lack of job opportunities in Pakistan, many men find this to be the only option to earn their bread.
It is estimated that around 80,000 to 90,000 are currently employed in the mining industry. These coal miners have gone on indefinite strikes protesting against the killings and kidnappings of their colleagues.
It was a decent outing — both in terms of their company and my camera. They were relaxed, had a good laugh, smiled and looked straight into the camera with curiosity, despite their rigid lifestyles. They made fun of each other’s big coal filled noses. I was told to leave early due to lack of security but it was time well spent.