KGF: Interview about conditions of mining in Kolar (contd)
Director: Janaki Nair; Cinematographer: R V Ramani
Duration: 00:19:12; Aspect Ratio: 1.366:1; Hue: 22.430; Saturation: 0.077; Lightness: 0.461; Volume: 0.121; Cuts per Minute: 20.413; Words per Minute: 116.022
Summary: in this interview the terms that the labourers, miners and managers use quite often are explained, such as what exactly is an airblast. When a hole is expanded to extend the search for gold, more and more air is let in. The choice then is to blast the area to remove the air pressure or to let it be which might lead to a spontaneous 'airblast'.
The workers interviewed stress how it is carelessness that leads to accidents, whether while carrying carbide lamps, making holes to search for gold or blasting an area. One of the workers speaks of an accident that took place in 1954, when ten men died. In this worker's account, neither the white man nor the Mysore sircar took care of the safety of workers, while the central government did provide helmets, glasses, headlights, belts, boots and gloves.
The workers are also exposed to more slow developing risks of lung disease such as silicosis. Janaki Nair asks them whether they relied on alcohol to get some relief from the discomfort of silicosis or the dreariness and labours of their mining work. They speak of how pure alcohol alone can help with silicosis, but the habit of alcohol would not help much.
One worker repeats to J. Nair how 22 of them joined on the same day in 1954, and now only 2 of them are alive still.
In that moment, thirty years back, all these things were used, today they don't use anything.
J. Nair: Why?
The economy of the mines. Weekly once Sengupta used to come for just the (dusting). Inspector of mines, when he came, just on that day, the driveway used to be completely cool. Noone does drilling without water. A big man is coming, even in a place without a water connection, they used to give a water connection. Because he was coming, no? After putting that water connection, if you make holes, it's safer for you. The smoke and gas coming through them will be put out by the water. Otherwise, an excess of dust will reach his face. If he spits, a driller, it will come out solid. Because of this there is a chance of silicosis developing. This is an important fact about the drilling point.
Kolar Gold Field, Kolar District, Karnataka
J. Nair: What about air blasts?
Now, ordinarily, if we talk about the air blast...if there isn't sufficient support in some old stopes... There are several big holes, air passes through these, and day by day this air passes through them. In a small hole if you put your hand, first your hand will go in, then your arm will go in. As more and more air passes, the holes develop. Day by the day if this becomes full, suddenly one day it will burst, it won't be able to stand it.
Therefore, management, supervisor staff, officers, agents, should inspect all this, should take note of the danger areas, should ask 'should we blast and remove this?' or 'should we use loose bars to remove the holes?' If you do all this, then there will be safety. If you ignore these, then in certain circumstances there will be rock bursts. There's one more thing - in the area where the reef is, there will be bursting.
J. Nair: Can I ask you one thing?
J. Nair: All these years you've worked in the gang, how do you know when an air blast is about to take place? Is there any way of knowing?
Before the rock burst happens, the holes growing bigger without our being able to see it, sand/mud will fall down. Among us they say, "Look, sand is falling. I'm doubtful, come, let's go." If the sand falls, they should become alert. A distance of fifteen or twenty feet distance should be kept, they should say "Sand is falling there, don't go there".
Before the pressure builds, ... and we will hear a sound. If that sound comes, sand will fall. After the sand falls, serviced (experienced) men will warn all the men there. After ten minutes, once you hear a blast, enough sand to fill some forty fifty vehicles will fall down there. Despite this warning if any men are cuaght there they will die.
In 1954, we were working in the mines. 38 years I've been doing underground service. In these 38 years, I've been working safely, that is, not carelessly. Carelessness is what brings danger. Any work must be done patiently, not in a hurry, it's because of doing work in a hurry that many people... sometimes air blasts occur suddenly when we are passing through in the paths. We used to carry carbide lamps in the hand, and when the blast happened, the light would go out. The, the men did not know which way to run. If origianlly 5 men are caught in the air blast, the number will increase to 10 because of people falling into the sink or hitting against the sides of the mountain.
If more and more air blasts are happening, noone is allowed near the area. The authorites will go and inspect it and order everyone to stay away. After two or three hours have passed and the pressure has decreased, if we go to try and pull out the men, because it's doubtful whether the men will survive or die, the management will put a seal there. In front of our eyes they would seal it, and say "noone is to work here". The bodies would remain there, and they would use empty boxes, pack them, cover them with blankts, rub oil, would send them to the respective addresses, according to the ticket numbers. Like this, in our line, in B and D Block, so many such bodes have remained underground, and we have delivered empty boxes, which are not opened.
J. Nair: Weren't you ging to say something about the danger?
In 1954, when we first went to work, in the (brick? breeze?) shaft (all these shafts were run by white men on contract basis), there were 116 levels. Here, in ..., we were going in the gauge, 40-50 of us, and it was 9 in the morning. A white man Johnson, 6 feet tall, and some four men like us, were going in the gauge, and suddenly we heard a sound, and the sink itself burst in an air blast. Once it burst, when the sand, stones and mud fell from the gauge, ten men who were on the side died immediately. In this the white man died, the contract man Maanikkam also died, we were all in the centre. Back then we were given only a basket cap (koodai topi) and a carbide lamp. No boot etc...
J. Nair: When were you given the carbide lamp? First there were only candles...
In the beginning, it's been 116 years since the mines started. In the beginning, if you look at how they worked, our grandfathers etc, they wore just a loincloth and were given a long candle. Then the coolie was not above 4, 5 or 6 annas. In a month, the salary was not more than 6 or 7 rupees.
For the candle, they used hand jembers, which they made using a hammer(?). This is how they used to blast then. After 30 or 40 years, they used the Jack ember(?) mission, two people held it, it ran on steam, not current. After this, they brought the Bit Mission(?) .... This misfire he referred to, it happens because of carelessness. Already ....if you do it in a hurry and it misfires, the men will die on the spot.
For us, the white man came and made us slaves of suffering, just gave us a koodai topi and a carbide lamp. Without any protection, he asked us to go down 50 or 60 feet to work. If there was an airblast, the men from the timber gang, the tramming gang and the mission gang would die right there. Secondly, there was no ventilation, you wouldn't sweat. The airblasts happen because of lack of safety. Then the Mysore sircar took charge of running it. Then also they didn't ensure safety.
After the central government took over, they gave us helmets, glasses, headlights, belts, boots and gloves (to hold the jambar) and break stones, they increased saftey. Also, they brought in a law that in areas without protection, even if te director of the management asks you to work, you should not work there. They also set up a VT centre and trained us all - that this is how you should work, even if the authorities rush you and ask you to do work, you should not do it. If they take action against you, it's our responsibiity, we'll take care of it.
Only after the central government took over did these accidents decrease. From the earlier time, those who lost eyes, ears, legs, so many in number; so many bodies are still in the underground, in our line, B and B block, the underground is filled with bodies. They only send empty boxes. In those days, service gratuity was not more than 50 or 60 Rs. With the Central Govt there is scope to earn in thousands.
For us, gold is that which is high in price, that which does not respect price is our body. How do we protect this body? In 1954, 22 of us went to work, only two of us are alive today. The reason is that all our work we did carefully, if we were doubtful about anything we didn't do it, we didn't hurry and do anything, even if it took us three hours to do a two hour job. .... in the VT centre before sending you underground they would give you training. For the mission men, the timber men, the rail gang men, the tramming men, pipe or survey, 15 days or 1 month training used to be given, and they worked well after that.
J. Nair: After finishing work, what did you do in the evenings?
We used to come back, bathe and rest for an hour and then go walking. Then we used to teach the children their lessons. We had to go back for the morning shift.
J. Nair: Didn't you go to the cinema?
Once in a while we used to go to the cinema.
J. Nair: Didn't you drink alcohol?
No, no, not all that.
Some of us had the habit, some of them didn't.
Men like me, after working hours, came home, bathed and ate, rested for one or two hours, then went to the union office at four or five o'clock, during my service. I have been a member there for nearly 25 years. The discussions there were about the mines and the worker's reports "Today, this officer said this, he did this to me..." "The foreman did this, he sent me home, he asked me to do the second shift...". Reports like these need to be attended to. Doing all this and returning home by eight, this was some people's habit.
Others went to the market, bought things needed for the house, bought things for their children, that is, family work, some people did this also. Yet others who were in the sports line went to play football or badminton or volleyball. So different kinds of habits were there. And there were those who, as soon as it was evening, went to the alcohol shop and drank a little, saying "Today was hard, to sleep well and go to work tomorrow, I need this", there are several among the workers who have this habit also.
J. Nair: They say that for silicosis, you need to drink alcohol, then only you get relief?
For silicosis, you need the liquor (kallu) from only one tree - the coconut tree. It should be completely pure. You can't do this drinking four or five bottles (like me) and getting delirious. Simply one small bottle, like medicine, just like a tonic. If you use it like a tonic, then it will give you relief. But there should be no mixing, it should be pure. Doctors themselves have said it is good for you, that you shouldn't drink sarayam, arrack, brandy, your body will be ruined. If you get it like this, in its pure form, drink it, otherwise don't drink.
For an air blast to happen, there are two reasons. One is that a 50 foot stope ... needs to be filled up completely, filling it up with cement or concrete or stones. If there is open sunlight anywhere, and there is air leakage, an air blast will happen. The second reason, the gold forms in the form of wreaths. As it expands, heat will build up, and will burst like a bomb. After bursting, it will pour 50 vehicles full of mud, which will be full of gold.
J. Nair: How did you come to do such dangerous work? Didn't you think about this?
Earning/ivelihood. Now, there was noone at home. We studied till 6th or 7th standard. They used to say "If you go down, it's death, if you go above it's money". But there was no one to earn and support the family at home, some people joined the military, we joined this mining work. We risked our lives to support our families.
After we joined and rock bursts happened, in fear some people joined the army, left the mines in five or six days. This happens because of fear.
How this fear happens is that, for instance, if we are sitting around and we hear that an air blast has happened and so many people have died. Those who come from the villages, Valiyambadi, Tirupatur, Trichi, hundred or two hundred people will run away from this work saying "20 people have died there, we don't want this work". Then the jeeps from the mines would come by and ask if anyone wants this work and recruit people.
Now since we needed to earn, and we were not educated and there wasn't anyone to support us at home, we thought "Even if we lose our lives it's fine, if we go down it's death, if we go above it's money", and with this attitude we go down in the mine and struggle. Even if we struggled, if we were careful then we were safe. Now 22 of us joined/were fit, in '54, 22 joined on the same day, and out of that 20 died and only 2 of us are alive.
The reasons for ... the difficultis with minings are firstly ... secondly, dust, when we inhale dust for two or three hours, we get cough, ashthma, silicosis, several diseases. Even now I can't walk upstairs easily, I get breathless. I can't run 100 feet, if I lift 5kgs I get breathless and start sweating. All this difficulty is because of the dust, and sweat.