Sophie Gerrard – Coal Cycle Wallahs

“Wobbling and pushing their bikes laden high with stolen coal, the Coal Cycle Wallahs slowly make their way through rural Jharkhand’s steep and twisting forest roads. Home to the largest coal belt in Asia, Jharkhand is one of India’s poorest states, and has been plagued by poverty, lawlessness, bad governance and corruption for over half a century. It is also, however, home to the vast majority of the county’s rich mineral deposits.
India’s Government owns everything underground and all coal mines are State controlled. The Coal Cycle Wallahs are unlikely to ever benefit from India’s economic growth. They scrape by a living, collecting this ‘black gold’ under the ever watchful eyes of east India’s Coal Mafia whilst corrupt officials pocket the rewards.
As India’s economy growed and it played host to the the 2010 Commonwealth Games, all eyes have been on Delhi. Many green pledges have been made regarding air quality and green energy. Yet as India is poised to become the third largest economy in the world within the next 25 years, its continued reliance on coal as a cheap, readily available and yet highly polluting fossil fuel is fast increasing. Coal is the dirtiest fuel on the planet and India is estimated to become the world’s third highest CO2 producer by 2030. The Coal Cycle Wallahs and the work they do are a stark illustration of poverty in the midst of rich fossil fuel resource abundance.”

Gerrard1Durga Singh, Coal Cycle Wallah, Jharkhand, India
“I’ve been doing this work for 15 years. I’ve travelled since 2am this morning with this coal so far. I collected it at Sakulbarwatola mine which is about 55 kms away. I’m heading to Ranchi to sell the coal and the journey should take 2 days in total. I need the money, the work is ok, what else can I do? Physically I don’t feel good, it’s hard work, but I have no choice. I will sell this full load for about 400Rs”.

Gerrard2Bulesher Mashto, 34 & Sitaram Mashto, 35, Coal Cycle Wallahs, Jharkhand, India
“We travel together because it’s safer and we can help each other on the steeper parts of the roads. We’re going to Ranchi, we’ve been travelling since yesterday and we’ll reach there this evening. We’ve been doing this work for 2 years, there is no work in the mines or on the land. There’s no labour that’s why we do this. We have to.”

Gerrard3Amir Singh, 30, Coal Cycle Wallah, Ranchi, Jharkhand, India
“We take about an hour to load the bikes with 500kgs of coal, sometimes there are others to help, sometimes you do it alone.”

Gerrard4Amit, 20 & Pintu, 17, Coal Cycle Wallahs, Pithauria, Jharkhand, India
“We’re from Bhurkunda, a village near here. We travel together and get our coal from Pithauria, then we walk to Ranchi and sell the coal. There is no other work for us here, it’s hard work but we’re young and we can do it.”

Gerrard5Fagula Hora, 35, Coal Cycle Wallah, Pithauria, Jharkhand, India
“I’m from Katanguri, near Ranchi, I come from there with the coal and then I sell it. I fill this bike and travel for 2 days to Ranchi and sell it there. I’ve been doing this for 18 years, I make good money carrying this coal, my livelihood is good. I like doing this because I make money for myself, I have no boss. I will sell this load for about 600Rs. I’m strong in my body so I can do this work, for the older men it gets more difficult.”

Gerrard6“We do this because if we didn’t there would be no other work. What choice do we have. The money we make from this is better than being a labourer, and we are our own boss. But its hard and gives us tired hearts and bones.”

more images on the artist’s website; found on Foto8