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NEWS OF THE DAY : Meghalaya’s coalmines are body disposal pits too
- January 21, 2019
- Posted by: Shivam
- Category: NEWS Worth To Read
NEWS OF THE DAY : Meghalaya’s coalmines are body disposal pits too
The dark depths of the mines, where few would dare to search, were turned into graves by criminals, says activist.
All bodies in Meghalaya’s killer coalmines do not belong to miners, activists in the hill State said.
Thousands of active and abandoned rathole mines have for years been used by murderers to dump the body of their victims. Many across Meghalaya’s coal belts have accidentally fallen to their deaths too.
Most of the bodies deep inside the pits have been forgotten, buried under coal and rocks or – like the one detected by an underwater Navy robot in an illegal mine at Ksan in the State’s East Jaintia Hills (EJH) district – get decomposed due to high content of sulphur that is converted into acid after reaction with water.
At least 15 miners have been trapped due to flooding of the mine at Ksan since December 13. High-power pumps used by several agencies have not succeeded in draining out the water for 38 days now.
Only a few bodies of non-miners, activists said, have been recovered. They include that of 20-year-old Daphishisha Kharsati, who was murdered by her husband Kheinlang Dkhar in January 1, 2014.
Her decomposed body was exhumed almost three months later from an abandoned coalmine at Umtah near Jayliah village in EJH district.
Two years later, the district police arrested Michael Dkhar for raping and murdering a three-year-old girl. Her body too was dumped in an abandoned coalmine, as was that of another of his victims – an 11-year-old girl – in a mine elsewhere in the district.
“The coal boom in the 1980s and 1990s led to a spurt in crimes of all hues. The dark depths of the mines, where few would dare to search, were turned into graves by criminals. Many of the victims were women and children because of human trafficking for mining as well as sex trade,” Hasina Kharbhih of the Shillong-based Impulse NGO Network told The Hindu.
Impulse’s 2010 investigative report on child labourers employed in Meghalaya’s “hazardous” mines was one of the documents on the basis of which the National Green Tribunal banned rat-hole mining in the State on April 17, 2014.
Data with the Meghalaya Police reveal the crime rate has been higher in the State’s eight (out of 11) mining districts. EJH, for instance, accounted for almost 14% of the 166 murders across the State in 2013, and almost 12% of the 159 murders the following year.
West Jaintia Hills district, known more for limestone mining than coal, followed closely behind EJH during those years.
According the Jaintia Coal Mines Owners and Dealers’ Association, there are about 60,000 mines spread across 360 villages in EJH. Most of these are abandoned, but left uncovered.
“The mine owners leave the pits just like that after extracting all the coal. Many children and young adults of villages around have fallen into these mines and died. But there are no complaints lodged because everyone’s scared of the coal barons,” Brian Kharpran Daly of Meghalaya Adventurers’ Association said.
Appeals to the authorities to have the mines covered to save lives have fallen on deaf ears, he said.
Local anti-mining activists, declining to be quoted, said the possibility of non-miners being buried in active or abandoned mines could make it difficult for search agencies to assert the body spotted by a robot at the ill-fated Ksan on January 18 belongs to one of the trapped miners.
17 miners, not 15
Saheb Ali, one of the five survivors of the December 13 disaster, reaffirmed on Sunday that 17 miners have been trapped in the Ksan mine, not 15.
“I checked with the khatamaster (record-keeper) and found there were 22 people working at the mine that day. If five of us, including the khatamaster and the sirdar (mine/man manager), survived 17 are down there,” Mr. Ali said from his village Nizdamugaon in western Assam’s Chirang district.
The EJH district authorities had more than a fortnight ago issued a list of 15 trapped miners. The list does not have the name of one Kuti Miyan of central Assam’s Hojai.
“The day after the mishap, I had reported to the EJH authorities about Kuti also being in the mine, but his name is yet to figure in the list,” Kamaluddin, Miyan’s brother, said.
“The original list of 15 miners is as per the report of the investigating officer. Any fresh claim will have to be inquired into for moving the government accordingly,” EJH Deputy Commissioner Federick M. Dopth said.
A district spokesperson said the Navy on Sunday suspended the operation to pull the remains of the body detected inside the rat-hole mine 160 ft below. “We are waiting for further instruction while efforts are on to locate items such as rings, amulets and pieces of clothes for relatives to identify the bodies, if and when they are located,” he said.
Yusuf Shah, who succeeded his father Ali Shah, was imprisoned by the Mughal emperor Akbar and later exiled to Bihar.
The burial ground of Yusuf Shah Chak, who ruled Kashmir from 1579 to 1586 and was one of the last native rulers of independent Kashmir, is under threat from landgrabbers. The mutawalli (caretaker) of the cemetery in Biswak village in Bihar’s Nalanda district where Yusuf Shah is buried, has written over 200 letters to the government, seeking protection for the monument. But the encroachment has continued, with villagers building homes on the graveyard land.
Yusuf Shah, who succeeded his father Ali Shah, was imprisoned by the Mughal emperor Akbar and later exiled to Bihar. He was given land in the Islampur block of Nalanda district and permitted to maintain a cavalry of 500 soldiers. The place where the Kashmiri king settled was known as Kashmir Chak. He died in 1592 in Odisha and his body was brought back to Bihar to be buried in Biswak, adjacent to Kashmir Chak.
“Despite his cowardice, Yusuf Shah’s imprisonment and betrayal by Akbar has become a metaphor for the relationship between Delhi and Srinagar… After Yusuf Shah Chak, Kashmir was never free,” journalist Basharat Peer observed in his book Curfewed Night, while recalling details of his visit to the “featureless” Yusuf Shah Chak cemetery.
Spread over nearly five acres in a corner of Biswak, the cemetery is clearly under siege. A local boy, Mohammad Meraj, takes us along narrow by-lanes to the graveyard. The ground dips and flattens out into the cemetery surrounded by fields of bright yellow mustard in bloom.
A discoloured boundary wall encircles around 10 unattended graves of Yusuf Shah Chak, his wife Habba Khatoon, and other family members. The wall was erected in 2016 by the mutawalli Khalid S. Chak, and rebuilt by his son Yasir Khan Chak, who claims to be a descendent of the royal family. Inside, the graves are covered with torn, faded green chadars as goats, buffaloes and dogs bask in the winter sun.
The rest of the graveyard is unprotected. On this open land, village boys play cricket and locals from Biswak have built homes. While some are concrete houses, others have thatched roofs. The villagers who have encroached were reluctant to come on record, but claim they have done nothing illegal.
“A primary health centre and a public road have been constructed on the cemetery land. We want the government to protect the area and remove these encroachments,” says Yasir Khan Chak. “This cemetery is not about religion. It is a historical place and we should preserve its history. I’ve written more than 200 letters to the Chief Minister, the Deputy Chief Minister, District Magistrates, and other officials of the State, the Centre and even the Jammu & Kashmir government, asking them to intervene, but no one has responded so far,” he says.
Mr. Yasir Khan Chak says that the eight bigha land of the graveyard was even registered with the Bihar Rajya Sunni Wakf Board in 1963 but the “encroachment continued”.
‘Symbol of ties’
Syed Manzar Iqbal, who looks after the mosque and other cemeteries of the Chak dynasty in the neighbouring Kashmir Chak village, says, “This place also symbolises the relationship between the people of Kashmir and Bihar. It should be recognised as a national heritage.”
Every year, on December 28, people assemble in large numbers at the grave of Yusuf Shah Chak to celebrate Urs and honour him on his death anniversary.
Interestingly, in the year 2016-17, the State government spent ₹47 lakh to strengthen a crumbling mud fort of King Man Singh, located a stone’s throw from the Yusuf Shah Chak cemetery.
The security guard, Bal Shankar Chaudhury, reluctantly opens the massive iron gate to let us inside. “I joined here last November, but this is the first time that I am opening the lock and going inside. There is nothing but jungle-jhaar (overgrown shrubs) here,” he says. “No one comes here.”
When asked about the encroachments, Bihar’s Tourism Minister Pramod Kumar said, “Where it is located? I’m not aware of any such place. You may get some information on this from the Art and Culture department.”
But the State’s Art and Culture Minister Krishna Kumar Rishi was equally clueless. “You mean the King of Kashmir was buried here in Bihar? In a village of Nalanda district? No, I’m not aware of it. But since you’ve brought this to my notice, I’ll get the details and do the needful,” he said.
Last year, the ruling Janata Dal (United)’s Ram Vachan Rai had raised the issue of encroachments on the Yusuf Shah Chak graveyard in the Legislative Council through a call attention motion. “This is very unfortunate…I’ll again write a letter to the government,” he said.
There have also been some interesting visitors to the Yusuf Shah Chak tomb. In 1977, the then J&K chief minister Sheikh Abdullah, along with the writer and historian M.Y. Taing, had visited this grave. He had also assured support for development and preservation of the place.
Following his visit, one of the roads connecting the cemetery to Biswak village 2.5 km away was named Sheikh Abdullah Road. But little else has changed on the ground. The J&K government in 2015 was said to be considering a move to reclaim the mortal remains of the king, but nothing has moved at the government level, and land-grabbers continue to have a field day.
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