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From Gin Girls to Scavengers: Women in Raniganj Collieries



In the beginning, the coal mining industry employed women from the adivasi and lower caste communities in various stages of production. Their role continued to be significant as long as technology remained labour-intensive and collieries were small and surface-bound. The expansion of the industry and increasing mechanisation saw a decline in women's participation. This paper based on research in the Raniganj coalbelt in eastern India describes how the work of resource extraction becomes gendered, the growing marginalisation of women, and their increasing alienation from access to environmental resources and their transformation into illegitimate and invisible beings.
Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt
The global trend of the informalisation of women’s work is also evident in what is commonly
known as artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) practices. Small mines and quarries are
extremely diverse in nature, but comprise a repository of extremely poor people. This article
focuses on the gender and livelihood issues and concerns in small mines and quarries of South
Asia. In view of the lack of offi cial quantitative data, the research presented here is based on
proxy indicators and fi eld surveys. It addresses a gap in existing knowledge in ASM and makes
visible gender roles in the informal work in the mines and quarries. The article provides the
necessary backdrop, relevant information and interpretation of livelihood needs with a view
to sensitising policy makers to the issues rooted in gender.
Over 20 million people in the world depend on mineral resource extraction on an
informal basis for their living, an astounding fi gure that is much more than the number
of workers employed in formal mining industries.1 For many of these people, informal
mineral extraction forms a continuation of traditional modes of life, but there are
also those seeking seasonal cash incomes, those turned jobless by economic changes
brought about by reforms and also those displaced by big project developments. Inter-
nationally, these informal modes of mineral extraction practices are collectively known
South Asian Survey 15 : 2 (2008): 217–244
SAGE Publications Los Angeles/London/New Delhi/Singapore
DOI: 10.1177/097152310801500204
Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt is Fellow, Resource Management in Asia Pacifi c Program, Research School of Pacifi c
and Asian Studies, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.
Acknowledgements: I thank the institutions with whose help the study was undertaken: Communities
and Small Mines (CASM), Australia South Asia Research Centre and Resource Management in Asia Pacifi c
Program of The Australian National University, Canberra, and the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Contemporary
Studies, New Delhi. Grateful thanks also to the people who shared their knowledge on the fi eld: Fr Tony
Herbert of Prerana Resource Centre, Xavier Dias, Swami Agnivesh of Bandhua Mukti Morcha, Rana
Sengupta of Mine Labour Protection Campaign, Ravi Rebapragada and Bhanumati Kalluri of mines,
minerals & PEOPLE, Bulu Imam of INTACH, Jayalakshmi of NIRD, Hyderabad, S.A. Azad of Prasaar
and Nitish Priyadorshi of Ranchi University. This article presents a revised version of my earlier study
(Lahiri-Dutt 2007b). I am thankful to an anonymous referee from South Asian Survey for constructive
suggestions in revising this article.
South Asian Survey 15, 2 (2008): 217–244
218/Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt
as artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM; see Hentschel et al. 2002). Estimates of the
number of people involved in ASM depend on what is precisely meant by ASM, the
focus often being on gold, diamonds and other high value materials, but, when bulk
commodities are included such as coal, limestone, sand and gravel, the numbers can
skyrocket. In South Asia, no singular defi nition of ASM exists, as ‘artisanal’ is equated
with traditional practices such as panning or gemstone mining. The term ‘quarry’
implies shallow inclines or surface workings whereas ‘small mines’ may also mean deep
or even underground but largely unmechanised operations. Most of these quarries
are generally licensed and described as ‘small-scale mining’ operations. In this article,
I have used ‘small mines and quarries’ as well as ‘ASM’ broadly to mean all licensed
small, medium and some large mechanised enterprises, unlicensed and unregulated
and small operations, scavenging operations and fi nally non-legal (beyond the legal
domain) practices of small-scale mining. Collectively, these mining operations pro-
duce a large range of minerals in the region, but excepting the gemstones industry of
Sri Lanka and some scattered gold and diamond extractions in India and Pakistan,
the largest segment of the minerals are low value, building/construction/industrial
materials (such as stones of various sort, gravels, sands and clays and limestone) and
coal; there are exceptions such as some export-oriented marble and mica.
These small mines and quarries are part of the burgeoning informal or ‘unorganised’
sector of third world economies. In South Asia, however, they have often remained
invisible to developmental planners and policy makers. For example, the recent Report
on Conditions of Work and Promotion of Livelihoods in the Unorganised Sector in India
defi nes the unorganised sector as consisting of ‘all unincorporated private enterprises
owned by individuals or households engaged in the sale and production of goods and
services operated on a proprietary or partnership basis and with less than ten total
workers’ (NCEUS 2007: 3), and unorganised or informal employment as those work-
ing without employment/social security benefi ts provided by the employers. These
defi nitions should have necessitated the inclusion of small mines and quarries within the
purview of this report, which unfortunately was not the case. This invisibility, despite
a long artisanal mining tradition in many parts of the region, is possibly because of
the poor social understanding of the South Asian mining bureaucracy, which often
leads to the equation of everything ‘informal’2 with ‘illegal’. Such synonymy between
informality and illegality also refl ects the little explored issue of mineral ownership
by the state and the corporatisation of mineral enterprises. Even most civil society
activism has tended to see mining as tantamount with environmental destruction, and
rightfully so; the cumulative effects of ASM on environmental health are undeniably
negative and have indeed been the focus of a great amount of research internationally.
Strong anti-mining movements in South Asia led by pro-environment groups have
generally focused on these negative impacts of unregulated mineral extraction, without
differentiating between ASM and large-scale mining and neglecting to problematise the
question of livelihoods of the large numbers of people involved in ASM (for examples
from India see Bhanumathi 2003; Vagholikar et al. 2003).
South Asian Survey 15, 2 (2008): 217–244
Women’s Livelihoods in South Asia’s Small Mines and Quarries/219
The signifi cant contribution of small mines to the world mineral production
was recognised early (see, for example, Argall 1978; Carman 1985; Noestaller 1987,
1994). Internationally, although it is recognised that small and artisanal mining forms
a crucially important part of the country’s mineral production,3 offi cial policies have
been either to regulate or to regularise and formalise the supply chains and links espe-
cially in high value mineral products such as gold and diamonds (CASM 2005). The
focus of one set of environmental experts has been on the negative environmental
impacts, deforestation and related destabilisation of the earth’s surface amongst others
(see Baluda 2000; Murao et al. 2000). Multi-country efforts such as UNIDO’s Global
Mercury Project (GMP) have addressed specifi c issues—controlling the unsafe use
of mercury in gold amalgamation—to improve local ecology and environmental
health (UNIDO n.d.). Yet, since the late 1980s high prices of almost all minerals, but
particularly gold, have resulted in a series of ‘new gold rushes’ in several locations in the
Asia-Pacifi c such as Kalimantan or Mount Kare in Papua New Guinea. Burke points
out (2006: 231) that the attention of policy makers has been on the illegality rather
than on investigating policy options that could work for people, the state’s exchequer
and the environment. The earliest policy intervention was in the pre-Harare days—late
1980s and early 1990s—in the Philippines, where the Department of Environment
and Natural Resources developed a plan for small centres to hire out equipment and
train miners in safe work practices. The other example of policy intervention was in
Papua New Guinea where, unlike the Philippines, ASM is legal because minerals are
owned by the land owners, enabling projects to be attached to local offi ces of the Mines
Department. Burke notes (2006: 233) that both projects seem to have originated as
‘mercury awareness’ education programmes, albeit in two different contexts of legality
and resource ownership. Although both projects had a ‘people-focused’ approach in
their respect for miners and their livelihoods, and in making them effi cient and safe,
there have been only a few such projects in the Asia-Pacifi c region since then. An
emerging policy approach is from Africa where ‘partnerships’ between the mining
companies and local mineral producers have been effective in the cases of gold and
diamonds, giving rise to fair trade concepts in ASM, formalisation of supply chains
and supporting locally-based initiatives to help communities develop alternative skills
and employment generation activities.
In spite of these initiatives, comparatively little attention has been paid to
understanding gender in mineral-based livelihoods worldwide. Since women comprise
a signifi cant part of the labour force in the informal income-generating activities, it
can be expected that they would constitute a large segment of workers in informal
mines. Women, also as wives of miners, would form the most vulnerable amongst the
mining communities, necessitating a better understanding of gender in these mines.
In a review of the emerging issues related to livelihoods and gender roles around
mines and quarries in South Asia, this article addresses a gap in existing knowledge
on ASM in the informal mining sector.4 Although a large number of lives depend
on the incomes generated from small-scale mineral extraction, and women perform
South Asian Survey 15, 2 (2008): 217–244
220/Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt
a range of productive or income-generating activities around these mines including
those at home, this article focuses only on women as compared to men working in
ASM. Women workers in ASM form the proverbial ‘poorest of the poor’, in urgent
need of interventions to improve their freedom and abilities, and also a group with
signifi cant agency and ability to choose alternatives. I have used the livelihood approach5
with special emphasis on understanding gender roles and relations in the mines, and
on understanding the gender needs and interests amongst ASM workers. It has been
pointed out that the ways women and men seek and sustain a livelihood are different;
just as gender roles are different, livelihoods too are gendered activities (Valdivia and
Gilles 2001). Earlier studies of ASM communities in Africa, by Labonne and Gilman
(1999) and Carnegie (2002), have used this approach, whilst Jennings (1999) brought
the attention on labour and social issues in global ASM to the foreground.
The article aims at providing the necessary backdrop, relevant information and
interpretation of women’s livelihood needs in the informal mining industry in South
Asia. It aims to sensitise stakeholders to the issues rooted in gender and for developing
policy measures. The more specifi c objectives of the research are to investigate womens
roles and participation in a range of informal mining practices in the region. The article
rst gives an approximate indication of numbers based on existing information on small
mines and quarries, reviews the livelihoods and forms and structures of production
examining the position of women and men in ASM and outlining the gender concerns
thereof. Short fi eld surveys during 2005–2006 primarily in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal
and Bhutan provide the basis of many observations, although India rightly receives
the greatest attention.
The foremost problem affecting research on the ASM sector anywhere in the world
is the paucity of data—or even literature—on the subject. This stems from a mix
of reasons: the sector is omitted from offi cial data because of its smallness; record
keeping is poor on account of the informality and unorganised nature of the sector;
confusion over exact categorisation as either primary or secondary activity and, in
case of unlicensed operations, the fear of government interference (Heemskerk 2005:
84–85). In South Asia, all this is applicable; in addition, the blurring of children and
women’s labour also is an impediment. For secondary sources of quantitative data,
some earlier works exist, including Chakraborty (2002), Chakravorty (2001), Ghose
(1986, 1991, 1994), Ghosh (1996), Rudra (2002) and Sahu (1992). Special mention
must be made of the work done by National Institute of Small Mines (NISM) on the
Orissa manganese mines and the stone quarries of West Bengal.
Chakravorty (2001) indicates that just over 12 per cent of ASM workers were
women. His data were derived from the incomprehensive Annual Report 2002 of
the Directorate General of Mines Safety (DGMS), which notes that only 166,000
South Asian Survey 15, 2 (2008): 217–244
Women’s Livelihoods in South Asia’s Small Mines and Quarries/221
people were employed in non-energy mines in India. He points out that in one part of
West Bengal alone (Pacami-Hatgacha), there are an estimated 38,000 people working in
the (basalt) stone quarries, which is over seven times the number given in the DGMS all-
India list for stone quarries. Pacami-Hatgacha is not the only cluster of stone quarries in
the state of West Bengal, which is primarily a fl at plain consisting of Gangetic alluvium.
Other quarries exist particularly in the Birbhum district near the Rajmahal fringe, and
a large number of people are engaged in sedimentary stones and gravel quarrying in
the Himalayan foothills in the north of the state as well as gravel collection from river
beds in North Bengal. Assuming that there are only 100,000 quarry workers provid-
ing for the 80 million population of West Bengal, and demand for such a bulk product
is driven by population, there would be about 1.25 million such workers in all of
India. That this is a conservative estimate can be appreciated from the fact that the
Tamil Nadu Commissioners in 1995 noted that there were 750,000 quarry workers
in that state alone (Srivastava 2005: 24). With a population of 62 million in 2001,
this would lead, using West Bengal as the basis for calculation, to an estimate of more
than 12 million workers in the quarries for the whole of India.
According to the recently released 2001 Census of India data on workers, women
comprise around 14 per cent of all full-fl edged workers in India in the mining and
quarrying sector. However, the extent of informalisation of womens labour is evident
from the much higher proportion—33 per cent of all workers—being women amongst
those defi ned as ‘marginal workers’.6 For example, in state-owned coal mining, women
comprise around 5.6 per cent of the workers, but around 17 per cent of marginal
workers in the same sector are women. The participation of women is highest in
dolomite mining (33 per cent), mica mining (25 per cent), clays mining (23 per
cent), stone quarrying (23 per cent), salt extraction (23 per cent), manganese ore
mining (21 per cent) and gemstones mining (19 per cent), indicating that women’s
labour is concentrated in the small-scale or informal mining sector. Even within these
sectors, women’s participation is higher as marginal workers in dolomite mining
(40 per cent), mica mining (40 per cent), clays mining (35 per cent), stone quarrying
(38 per cent), salt extraction (59 per cent), manganese ore mining (40 per cent) and
gemstones mining (34 per cent). In gold ore mining, women comprise 57 per cent of
marginal workers, with chromium ore mining also employing women as 38 per cent
of the marginal workers. The total number of marginal workers in the mining and
quarrying occupational category is slightly over 225,000, which clearly is nowhere
near refl ecting the reality.
With regard to numbers, women undoubtedly constitute a large segment of workers
in the artisanal, small and informal mines all over the world (WMMF 2000). In most
cases the quarry workers come from rural and agricultural backgrounds, about 30 per
cent of whom are women in India (Krishnaraj and Shah 2004: 44–45). Thus, the
proportion of women in mines and quarries is likely to refl ect a similar percentage. In
fact, of all female workers, about 85 per cent are employed in primary sector activities
South Asian Survey 15, 2 (2008): 217–244
222/Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt
in India (Krishnaraj and Shah 2004: 46). The Global Report by the Mining, Minerals
and Sustainable Development (MMSD) Project on Artisanal and Small Scale Mining
(Hentschel et al. 2002: 21) pointed out that ‘[in] contrast to large-scale mining, the
involvement of women in small-scale mining activities is generally high.’ The number
of women participating in informal mining activities has increased over time. Hinton
et al. (2003) estimated that approximately 30 per cent are women, but in Asia the
proportion is less than 10 per cent. This fi gure is widely referred to, although it is not
based on offi cial information. It is also unclear if women and children are lumped
together in this fi gure, a practice not uncommon in ASM (see CASM 2004). Given
the high rate of participation of women in informal work, especially in the primary
sector, the proportion of women is higher than just 10 per cent as noted by Chakravorty
(2001), and following the international trend, may well be growing (as observed by
ILO 1999: 25).
For Sri Lanka some offi cial statistics are available (Government of Sri Lanka 2003),
which list 1,689 mining and quarrying operations with an average of 10 employees
each in 2000. These statistics include those activities with more than fi ve employees.
The Census of Industries (2004) in Sri Lanka counted 21,388 workers in 5,414 small
mines and quarries, each employing 10 or fewer workers in 2003. However, besides
these larger and formal sites, many operations are small, individual or family-run, and
hence unreported. If the number of operations are assessed at a conservative 2,000,
with an average number of labourers as 10 as per the report, we get a fi gure of 20,000
people in actual digging and quarrying operations in Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka, womens
labour is mainly concentrated in servicing and assisting the artisanal gemstone miners
as against the mainland roles of cutting and carrying, but also in the industrial cutting
and polishing of gemstones (Herath 2003).
For Pakistan, offi cial statistics estimated that about 23,000 persons were employed
in mining and quarrying for 2003–04 (State Bank of Pakistan 2005). However, this
is a country where the mining sector is yet to develop along modern lines and most
mining, including that of semi-precious stones, is undertaken artisanally in the remote
and inaccessible areas of Baluchistan and the North West Frontier Province where
governance structures are loose. If we take the Indian situation as a rough guide, then
of Pakistans workforce of 53 million, nearly 400,000 would be in the ASM sector.
In the case of Nepal, the labour force survey carried out for 1998–99 made no
mention of mining and quarrying, but UNESCAP (2003: 5) estimated that 0.08 per
cent of the active male population and 0.04 per cent of women over ten years of age
were employed in the mining and quarrying (M&Q) sector. According to the ILO
(2003), the labour participation rate of those in the 16–64 years age group in Nepal
is high (almost 90 per cent). These data lead to an estimate of approximately 120,000
in the M&Q census category in Nepal.
No statistics are available from Bhutan, although fi eld visits have revealed a large
number of stone quarries along the Himalayan foothills. In the north-eastern corner
of Bangladesh, bordering Assam, at least 100,000 people are involved in dredging the
South Asian Survey 15, 2 (2008): 217–244
Women’s Livelihoods in South Asia’s Small Mines and Quarries/223
river beds and quarrying the foothills for stones and gravel in Sylhet, based on fi eld
observations. Some of these gravel quarries are licensed but including the unlicensed,
along with the scavengers, the total employment fi gure would probably be much higher.
Similarly, there are gravel miners and sand miners all over India digging out low value
stone products as industrial or building material from dried up river beds and hills.
Since many of these would be pursued as seasonal livelihoods, it is appropriate to adopt
a conservative approach in arriving at the approximate estimation of 3 million workers
toiling away in small mines and quarries in the South Asian region.
In the national economies of South Asia, mineral revenues constitute only a small
part. For example, although India is currently one of the major miners of the world,
this fact does not show up in the breakdown of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
This is because of low capital accumulation from many of these mines and the fact
that the small quarries and traditional mineral processing activities are part of the
‘informal sector’ of the Indian economy which, according to an expert view, comprises
around 88 per cent of the total economy (Harriss-White 2003). The large number of
people surviving on mineral extraction use low levels of technology. In many of these
mines only simple tools are used, with every stage of processing being done by the
human hand. Whereas low-value products like stone and gravel are meant primarily
for local or domestic consumption, some of the minerals can have high values and
serve non-local markets such as marble from Rajasthan or the gemstones of Pakistan.
Even low-value products such as stones may be exported although the exact amount
of revenue earned by them is unrecorded.
Mining Traditions
Many of the mineral-based livelihoods are a direct continuation from traditional
artisanal mining. The long history of mining is evidenced from old texts such as
Kautilya’s Arthashastra, written in circa 250 BCE (Shamasastry 1956: 82–89), which
gave instructions on methods of gem-testing and of extracting minerals from hard and
soft ore bodies, and of making gold and silver coins from the metals thus obtained.
From the documentation, it can be assumed that mining was a well-accepted livelihood
activity.7 The introduction of scientifi c knowledge through engineering institutions and
modern legal frameworks of resource governance in the British period meant that many
of the old systems were destroyed. In their place, a new understanding of mining, as an
area of work requiring a range of licenses and permits, as well as a formal knowledge of
geology and production, emerged. The legal frameworks established during the colonial
times aimed at the control of mineral resources by the British state. Colonial mining
also brought in European models of labour relations and management techniques.
Consequently, traditional artisanal mining gradually ended up outside the legalised
South Asian Survey 15, 2 (2008): 217–244
224/Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt
sphere of resource governance, becoming invisible and in many cases even illegal as
per the current mode of mineral classifi cation. In addition to traditional mining, there
are also unclear and non-legal spaces in mining created once again by defi nitional
problems. For example, Meghalaya is a ‘fi fth schedule’ state in the northeast of India,
where mineral resources belong to local landowners. However, coal, which is abundant
there, is classifi ed as a ‘major mineral’ meaning that technically it can only be mined
by the state or major players. Consequently the 30,000 or so workers engaged in coal
mining in Meghalaya fall in the vacuum of this ‘non-legal’ space.
Legal Complexities
In general, small mine operators complain about the lengthy legal procedures (see
Goyal 2005) and demand a ‘one-stop shop’ for government clearance. A range of
interest groups are involved in administering small mines and quarries in the South
Asian countries: various government departments,8 mine (or quarry) owners or the
lessees, contractors, managers, supervisors, account keepers, mine workers, local cus-
tomers/buyers, manufacturing exporters and their agents for higher value products
such as some marble or mica, registered or unregistered workshops and house-
hold industries for processing. However, from fi eld observations it can be noted that
these categories are not mutually exclusive, and may not be present in all quarries.
Mine workers have the least bargaining power amongst these groups, and include
three kinds of workers: those who dig, those who carry loads, and those who process.
Work is usually conducted on a piece-rate basis, leading to relentless exploitation.
Women’s labour is usually concentrated in the two latter sub-groups. In the case of
many illegal and non-legal mines, the main cutter may have the responsibility of selling
the dug or panned products to local customers after semi-processing (Lahiri-Dutt and
Williams 2005).
Production Relations
From fi eld surveys it becomes apparent that production relations in small mines and
quarries are characterised by semi-feudal and pre-capitalist forms as well as capitalist
wages, making exploitation easier partly due to the remote locations of the mine sites
and partly by virtue of the unorganised nature of production. Living and working
conditions are deplorable by any standard; it is common for shelters to be no more
than small and low temporary huts with plastic sheets for roofi ng. There is usually no
clean and safe accessible drinking water supply, no electricity, no health services and no
educational facilities. For the children to naturally join in mining activities to support
the family at times of ill-health of the elders is neither uncommon nor infrequent.
A common feature in labour organisation in small mines and quarries is sub-
contracting. The mine owner sub-contracts a thekedar (contractor) for the regular supply
and control of labour. Small mines and quarries have permanent, casual, contract, self-
employed producers, dependent producers and unpaid family members. Permanent
South Asian Survey 15, 2 (2008): 217–244
Women’s Livelihoods in South Asia’s Small Mines and Quarries/225
workers may be protected by labour legislation but casual labourers, recruited on a
short-term basis, are not. Contract labourers are recruited either for certain numbers of
days or for certain amount of work (piece-rate) and are paid accordingly without being
covered by any sort of legislation. The unregistered processing plants or workshops are
run by self-employed producers with hired labour as dependent producers. Unpaid
family labour may include women and children who are extending a helping hand to
improve the family’s chances of survival. It is notable that women are never recruited
as long-term wage workers. The casualisation of work occurs more where parts of
the production process are sub-contracted to smaller units by the larger production
units. The work is casual and also highly seasonal; most quarries either shut down or
reduce production during the monsoon months. The workers either choose to work
in agricultural fi elds or are forced to seek other jobs. This seasonality in production
infl uences all aspects of production including the recruitment of casual and contract
workers. In illegal mines and quarries, the male head of the household can be described
as a self-employed producer. In household production units women may also participate
as home-based workers, with girls helping or training as unpaid family labour.
Migration and Production Relations in ASM
Small mines and quarries employ both migrants and members of local communities.
Migration can play different roles in the livelihoods of poor households of ASM
workers; it is a part of normal livelihood and survival strategies of the poor and does
not occur only during times of emergencies in the districts of India, although the
rate of migration increases at times of socio-economic distress, political crisis and/or
natural disasters. Women commonly migrate with their families and provide a family
unit of labour, including young children who are able to work. Seasonality of mobility
implies that many small mining and quarrying workers are poor landless farmers or
other rural workers seeking additional and cash income on a temporary basis during the
non-farming seasons. Such seasonal migrations from poorer rural areas to economically
better-off areas or to mineral-rich tracts for cash incomes at times of agricultural stress
or quiescence are not uncommon.
Sudden shocks to livelihoods such as droughts, also force the rural poor to seek jobs
outside of the farming economy, and small mines and quarries are often the primary
absorbers of such labour. Consequently, if they live in a mineral-rich tract, local
communities tend to fall back upon working in quarries or scavenging from old and
abandoned, or even operational, large mines. If they live in agricultural areas, groups
and families often migrate in search of such jobs to mining areas. For example, the
largest segment of workers in the collieries of northeastern India comes from Nepal.
Linkage between Displacement and Vulnerability of Livelihoods
Natural disasters or environmental hazards also encourage a large number of displaced
rural landless to join mines and quarries. In a region where agriculture is still intended
South Asian Survey 15, 2 (2008): 217–244
226/Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt
primarily for subsistence and is heavily dependent on monsoon rains, a couple of
successive years of drought often forces rural labourers out of the villages. Similarly,
oods or storms, earthquakes and location-specifi c hazards such as river-bank erosion
in the fl ood plains often drive poor people into small mines and quarries seeking
jobs. In many large mining areas, lack of attention to preserving ecological integrity
has caused the decay of farming and destruction of local natural resources, and the
involvement of peasants in what is often seen as illegitimate practices by the state
authorities. Persistent confl icts including low-key violence and the exercise of muscle
power based on local politics or ethnic and religious identities threaten the well-being
of poor, causing their fl ight not only to the big cities but also into mining-quarrying
jobs (Amarasinghe 1999). Ethnic violence in Sri Lanka and political instability in rural
Nepal have been crucial in ensuring a steady supply of cheap labour into the artisanal
gemstone quarries and the stone quarries along the Himalayan foothills. Above all,
displacement due to large-scale developmental projects, particularly large dams and
mining-power generation schemes, have been well-known to drive poor peasants into
informal, risky and insecure forms of occupations such as those in small mines and
quarries (Rao 2005). Women as new migrants move into small mines and quarries as
workers, with little or no support networks that were useful in looking after children,
in facing harassments, in tackling discrimination, and in preventing physical integrity.
New vulnerabilities, that are nearly impossible to deal with alone, are created for women
migrants in mines and quarries.
The proportion of women among the workers in small mines and quarries varies
from country to country, according to location, nature and value of the mineral,
processing techniques used, marketing systems, local social milieu, availability of
alternative occupations and other factors. In actual mining jobs, panning, processing,
transportation and related jobs on the fi elds, the percentage of women can vary from
as low as 10 per cent to a high of 50 per cent (Hinton et al. 2003). It has been noted
(for example in a report on women ninja miners of Mongolia by Appel 2005) that
often ASM is a dangerous and physically demanding activity, leading to a gender
division of labour in which men undertake the ‘heavy jobs’ and women take care of
most day-to-day chores.
Moretti (2005: 5), however, observed that limited female participation is not
exclusively a matter of personal preference but the outcome of mens nearly complete
domination of the contemporary space of production and social reproduction.
Moretti’s work gives the example of Mount Kaindi’s (Papua New Guinea) extractive
landscape where in accordance with ‘traditional’ principles of land ownership almost
all registered mining leases, tributary rights and customary land are held by men and
transmitted patrilineally.
South Asian Survey 15, 2 (2008): 217–244
Women’s Livelihoods in South Asia’s Small Mines and Quarries/227
Even in matrilineal societies such as the Maroons of Suriname, Heemskerk (2000: 7)
noted that the apparent autonomy hides gender inequality in relative access of women
and men to political power, money, capital assets and contacts with the outside world.
Amutabi and Lutta-Mukhebi (2001: 5) explain this disempowered status in terms of
lack of land rights in the mining areas in Kenya:
... women have only access to but do not control land. This does not make it possible
for women to have full control over the mining activities effectively. The traditional
social system deprives women control of mining pits and only allows them access
through men. Thus, their overall status in the production process is low.
A similar pattern may be observed in Latin American ASM communities; women
occupy a number of roles as labourers undertaking the most labour-intensive and
informal jobs in Bolivia (as palliris), or are associated with subsistence activities such
as those in Colombia (Veiga 1997).
Hilson (2001, 2002) documented the involvement of women in Ghanaian small-
scale mining showing that women comprise approximately 15 per cent of the legal
small-scale metal mining labour force and about 50 per cent of the ASM or galampsey
industry. Women are represented more heavily in lower value industrial minerals, the
proportion rising to over 75 per cent in salt mining. Hinton et al. (2003: 13) noted
that the key factors in determining gender roles and status of women in ASM include
‘womens and men’s access to and control of, resources; their ability to attain knowledge
of resources, their decision-making capacity or political power; and beliefs or attitudes
that support or impede the transformation of gender roles.’ Observing the gender roles,
Amutabi and Lutta-Mukhebi (2001: 15) comment: ‘at Mukibira, it was noticeable
that women do most of the work. They help in digging pits, panning, washing and
selection using mercury. They also do the marketing, as they seem to be preferred
by buyers. This is because women are generally regarded as being more honest then
men’. Yakovleva (2007), whilst examining the causes of female participation in ASM
in Ghana, highlighted the lack of alternative economic opportunities, and focussed
on the risks faced by women in low-skilled jobs. In the mining frontiers of Brazilian
Amazon, Graulau (2006: 299) put womens labour as the core of capital accumulation:
‘Vulnerability of womens labour in garimpagen is inscribed in broader processes of
capital accumulation in the Amazon region…. Women’s labour has been crucial in
the expansion of capitalism and the reproduction of its modes of production in the
mining frontier.
In Asia, even in countries like the Philippines, where traditionally ASM has provided
livelihood to a large number of people as the primary occupation with some shifting
cultivation, the number of women in ASM has been rising (Caballero 2006). Only
sparse data are available on China, but according to Shen Li of the Chinese Academy
of Sciences, the number of people could reach 100 million if cheap industrial minerals
such as sand, stone and gravels are included.9 In South Asia, like everywhere else, there
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228/Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt
is a rise in the number of quarries and decline in alternative occupations. Given the
seasonality of these jobs, insecurity and low wages, and the global trend of feminisation,
informalisation and casualisation of women’s labour, it can safely be assumed that
the work participation of women in ASM will also rise. UNIFEM (2005: 59) notes
that three dimensions of work and arrangements are relevant in determining the na-
ture, costs and benefi ts of informal work: place of work, employment relations and
production systems.
The small mining and quarrying sector in South Asia is a repository of concentrated
poverty and extreme forms of exploitation of the workers, both women and men.
CASM (2002: 22) does not see artisanal mining as strictly a mining problem ‘but
rather as a poverty issue which must be addressed by a comprehensive approach.’ As
people move back and forth between the informal mining sector and farming, or take
ASM up as an alternative to subsistence agriculture, families may have marginally better
incomes. Mining work is commonly done on a contract basis, often at piece-rates, but
also for daily wages. Jobs in small mines and quarries are sexually segregated, refl ecting
what is often referred to as horizontal segregation, offering women-and men-restricted
entry to particular jobs. For example, local transportation of materials is almost always
done in head loads of baskets by women, whereas technical jobs requiring skill or use
of machines are almost always reserved for men. As mine owners put it, women are
docile, possessing the proverbial ‘nimble fi ngers’, and are not supposed to do heavy
work. However, in almost all small mines and quarries, it is women who head load
the cut mineral ores from the mine site to the crusher, factory or the truck stop.
Chakravorty (2001: 38) notes:
… employment of women is very popular in opencast mines because they are more
regular and dependable and do not indulge in excessive drinking…. Women are in
demand also for hand sorting and blending for improving the quality of extracted
minerals which can not be gainfully carried out mechanically.
This observation fully reveals the gender-blindness of scholarship on ASM, because it
neglects to enquire into why women might be concentrated in the more arduous job
of hand-sorting and ignores their concentration in the more manual job of loading
baskets and carrying head loads. My observation is that most women in ASM are
from indigenous and similarly marginal ethnic communities including the low castes
(Lahiri-Dutt 2003b), that they work mostly in the more risky and manual jobs in the
mines, with little or no safety or security, at low wages and often as part of family labour.
The sexual division of labour in small mines and quarries presented by Chattopadhyay
(2002) for mica factories in Giridih in eastern India clearly shows that men tend to do
more specialised and skilled jobs that often involve the use of machines. Obviously,
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Women’s Livelihoods in South Asia’s Small Mines and Quarries/229
head loading of 20–30 kilograms is not considered to be unsuitable for women within
the mine but this is one area that needs immediate policy intervention.
Women’s lack of ownership of productive resources probably is the most crucial
factor in ensuring their low status in almost all land-based production systems
(Agarwal 1994). Lack of land ownership leads to the non-identifi cation of women
as legitimate ‘miners’ in many countries: Susapu and Crispin (2001: 14) noted this
phenomenon in Papua New Guinea. In the absence of collateral, the lack of access to
credit becomes a signifi cant problem; even in South Africa (where women’s mining
associations have attempted to overcome barriers such as lack of collaterals for loans)
poor education and negative attitudes of bankers towards women miners means that
only 6 per cent women have access to loans. In South Asia, women most commonly
do not own small or artisanal mines, nor even cut the minerals themselves, but work
as transporters or loaders, and as processors of minerals. The culturally rooted gender
bias is then reinforced in South Asia through legal instruments that limit womens
labour to specifi c jobs in specifi c places and times.
In ASM in South Asia, women are not owner–entrepreneurs, having no control
over the land or the mineral resource contained therein; they are employed as casual
workers usually by labour contractors, in low-technology, labour-intensive processes.
This gives rise to high direct and indirect costs of ASM work: long hours and
unscheduled overtime, lack of benefi ts and social protection, occupational health
hazards, high indebtedness and periodic/seasonal shocks to work, insecurity of work
and incomes, variability and volatility of income, lack of training, and lack of legal
status, organisation and voice.
The range of ASM practices is illustrated in Diagram 1. It depicts the economic
organisation, production relations and levels of capital accumulation on the horizontal
axis as a function of legal status. The diagram shows the increased use of machines
with increasing legality factor and capitalist mode of production. The maximum
concentration of women’s labour is to be broadly found in the non-legal and manual,
subsistence mining practices. By pointing out the concentration of women in
subsistence level, unmechanised and in non-legal mining practices, the diagram clearly
illustrates the need for relating gender and development policies in the ASM sector.
Gendered Livelihoods in ASM
Women working in small mines and quarries are often at the mercy of petty contractors
who tend to subordinate them through direct and indirect means of oppression in-
cluding physical exploitation. Food insecurity of the family, direct responsibility of
providing food for young children and the non-availability of better paid and regular
jobs drive them to take up work in the quarries. Small mines and quarries are plagued
with numerous problems including a high degree of health, safety and environmental
risks and sometimes confl icts with large mining companies. The workers have only
limited access to credit, equipment and appropriate technology. Although gender
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230/Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt
crosscuts each of these factors, it is not commonly recognised as such. Given below is a
brief outline of the livelihood issues; if informal mining is to develop into a sustainable
activity, these individual issues need to be examined through a gender lens.
Working Conditions and Safety
Women in ASM in South Asia are working in three different categories of jobs:
(a) in the extractive process as diggers, sorters, panners, stone breakers and in crushing
and preparing of minerals; (b) as transporters and carriers commonly working in
head loading; and (c) as cleaners, and as suppliers of food and beverages, clerks and
secretaries, peons and carers. In small mines and quarries, it is the fi rst two groups that
are the most common. These women are in most cases from extremely poor, from the
adivasi (indigenous) or dalit (downtrodden/lower castes) communities, with low levels
of literacy, usually in younger age categories (age groups 5–30 years). The working
days are extremely long and tiresome. Parthasarathy (2004: 217–18) describes the life
of a woman in an Indian quarry:
A typical day of a woman mineworker starts at 6 a.m.… At the mine site they work
continuously till noon, after which they take an hour’s break and return to work till
4 p.m.… Many of the women mineworkers of Bondaniya were contract labourers
and only a few were directly employed by the companies. Indeed the women
complained that one of the companies actively discourages any direct employment
and would rather hire a contractor, who in turn prospers by engaging cheap labour
Diagram 1
Placing Women in Small Mines and Quarries in South Asia
Source: Author’s estimation.
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Women’s Livelihoods in South Asia’s Small Mines and Quarries/231
who are denied benefi ts accruing to the women mineworkers directly employed
by the company, like bonus, wage increments, provident fund etc.… Due to the
piece rate women and men are paid differential wages: Padmini Koi gets Rs 70 a
day for the same eight-hour working day as a man who gets Rs 75 because women
are said to be slower than the men in fi lling up the boxes.
Women tend to accept poorer working conditions: lower wages than men, no equip-
ment or safety gear or safety education, no toilets or living facilities within close
proximity, rare and unpaid holidays and unpaid pregnancies. Often this is associated
with physical and sexual exploitation by the contractors, co-workers and other local
men. Major accidents mostly claim the lives of men as they are the ones present in the
underground jobs. Minor accidents due to blasting or falls are common for both women
and men. Simple safety gear such as shoes, masks and helmets is not supplied, nor is
training in their use provided. Snake bites and inundations can also claim lives.
Occupational Health Related Issues
Occupational diseases range from ill-health such as respiratory problems, silicosis,
tuberculosis, leukaemia, arthritis, poor vision and deafness to reproductive tract prob-
lems. They occur due to constant exposure to dust and noise and poor water supply
and sanitation. Occupational health issues arising out of poor working conditions
lead to dust-related diseases of the respiratory tract such as tuberculosis and silicosis,
which reduce the working ability and lifespan of the workers.10 Surveys conducted by
the Indian Council of Medical Research have reported incidence rates between 16 to
57 per cent of silicosis amongst stone quarry workers in different parts of the country.
The incidence is high in Rajasthan, where mining and quarrying is second only to
agriculture as a source of employment, according to another study conducted by the
Department of Chest Diseases of the Medical College in Jodhpur, and the NGO
Gramin Vikas Vigyan Samiti (GRAVIS n.d.). Radiological investigations showed that
56 per cent of mine workers in Rajasthan are affected with silicosis or silica-tuberculosis.
If these numbers are indicative of the general incidence of such diseases, then at least
800,000 workers in small mines and quarries might be affected just in the state of
Rajasthan. Air pollution—primarily the presence of suspended particulate matter
(PM) in the air—also affects surrounding village residents; indeed, silica dust is just
one component of airborne PM. The Supreme Court Guideline of 1997 rules out the
location of a stone crusher within a kilometre radius of human habitation, but this
guideline has not been strictly implemented.
Water-borne diseases are also extremely common, including frequent outbreaks of
enteric diseases amongst all workers. The average lifespan of a quarry worker, according
to a civil society group (Prasaar) working on occupational health issues around Delhi
quarries, is not more than 50 years. According to S.A. Azad, the Executive Director of
Prasaar, at the time of taking up jobs in quarries, a worker is fully aware of the death
trap lying ahead, but the lack of alternatives forces a person in his twenties to work in
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232/Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt
the quarries (Azad 2006). In Azad’s view, the average working life of a worker—both
women and men—is between 12–15 years. After a decade or so of working in the
collieries, most workers become ill and gradually are unable to work, eventually
dying in their late 40s or early 50s. The degraded working and living conditions, and
uncertainties of life also encourage excessive alcohol consumption habits amongst
the quarry workers, both women and men falling victims to the habit. Alcoholism
is prevalent primarily amongst men, but affecting women and the family, leading to
domestic violence (such as wife-beating and ill-treatment of children), confrontations
amongst neighbours and workmates and desertion of wives by husbands and above all
plunging the entire family into poverty and perpetual indebtedness.
Gender, Bonded Labour and Child Labour
Women are at the bottom of the hierarchy of production. Although they play major
roles in subsistence as well as commercialised small mining and quarrying, they
generally have very low level of control over the products of their labour or to act as
autonomous subjects.
Bondage, a contemporary form of slavery, is a widely used method of labour em-
ployment in ASM in South Asian countries.11 Srivastava (2005: 3) defi nes bondage
as, ‘a system of forced, or partly forced, labour under which the debtor enters into an
agreement, oral or written, with the creditor.’ In South Asias caste-bound and hier-
archical society, bondage of an individual man turns into inter-generational bondage,
child bondage, loyalty bondage and bondage through land allotment spilling over to
other members of the family, especially women (widow bondage) and girl children
who have the least control over their fates (see: Bakshi 2002; Sreedharan and Muniyapa
2000: 6, also Lerche 1995 for distinctively different approaches to the question of
bondage). Quarry workers and gem cutters are highly represented amongst those in
bondage (see Kapadia 1995). Mendelsohns (1991) research described the intervention
of a non-governmental organisation to release the stone quarry workers around New
Delhi. Olsen and Ramana Murthy (2000) traced the condition of contract and bonded
labourers in Andhra Pradesh. Debt bondage, the most prevalent form amongst the
various kinds of bondage, enslaves more men but for women, it can mean ‘double
exploitation’ (Herzfeld 2002). When a woman marries a bonded labourer, she also
marries the conditions of his bondage. In case of a woman head of a household being
in bondage, the consequences are forced work for long hours, often outside of usual
quarry jobs, and complete disempowerment.
In Pakistans small mines and quarries, Ahmad Saleem has shown the ‘vicious circle’
of bonded labour, where about 80–85 per cent of them came from only two districts,
Swat and Shangla of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP):
An agent of the mine owners, who always remains behind the scene in most cases,
recruits the people for this exhausting grind by giving them ‘advance money’. The
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Women’s Livelihoods in South Asia’s Small Mines and Quarries/233
advance money ranges from Rs 40,000 to 45,000 in Balochistan, Rs 25,000 to
30,000 in Sindh and at its lowest in the NWFP’ (Dawn 2003).
Ercelawn and Nauman (2001) described the conditions of both women and men
bonded labourers in Pakistan. The Nepalese bonded labourers, called kamaiyas, belong
mainly to the Tharu community (Sharma et al. 2001), and once indebted due to
poverty, the borrower and his heirs become bonded to the landlord.
The relationship between women’s labour and bondage is acknowledged, but the
question of linkages between gender and child labour12 in small mines and quarries
is still ill-understood. This is because of the fact that even to this day, ‘women and
children’ are seen as a single category in many offi cial circles.13 This often leads to a
justifi cation of protective legislation such as the prohibition of women’s work in mines
and quarries.14 It is indeed true that women are accompanied by children into small
mines and quarries, but in fact more children accompany their fathers as apprentices
than their mothers. The question of child labour also involves the question of ‘gender’
within the category of ‘the child’, as girl children are usually at a greater disadvantage
than the boys because of their gender.15 In spite of preventive laws such as Indias Child
Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986, children continue to be engaged in
mining and quarrying work in the entire South Asia as a more docile and cheaper form
of labour. ILO’s major programme, the International Programme for the Elimination
of Child Labour (IPEC) has been operating in South Asia through governments, em-
ployers, workers, non-governmental organisations and teachers. Measures such as the
National Child Labour Programme in India and the ILO’s projects have been designed
to release and rehabilitate children under the purview of the Act.
In prioritising policies, the ‘high congruence between the informal economy and the
poor and vulnerable’ led the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised
Sector in India to examine the twin issues of conditions of work and promotion of
livelihood. The fi rst step towards addressing the magnitude of the problem was to ‘create
a social fl oor’ below which nobody is allowed to fall (NCEUS 2007: 9). So far, policies
in India have swung between complete control of illegal mining and complete opening
up of the small mining sector as evident in the Mineral Policy of individual states such
as Rajasthan. Other countries do not seem to have a well-developed policy at all.
The Commission also recognised that ‘livelihood promotion is the only route’
through which it is possible to deal with the issues of working conditions and related
aspects of poverty and vulnerability (NCEUS 2007: 9). Although the Commission
recognised that certain laws and regulations have negative impacts on livelihoods to
create the foundations of decent work, no mention was made in this context on the
legislation that affects women and their work in small mines and quarries.16 This is
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234/Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt
not unusual; generally the mining industry and bureaucracy of South Asia have neg-
lected to prioritise social issues, and have continued to focus on the improvement of
techno-economic effi ciency in all spheres from exploration to exploitation, including
management and control. The fi rst policy implication, therefore, is to accept that small
mines and quarries are here to stay, that they make important contributions and hence
need to be integrated fully into their respective local economies, and that they pose an
area of concentrated poverty that has yet remained relatively untouched either by the
administration, NGOs or trade unions. It is also important to better understand small
mines and quarries as an integral and legitimate aspect of the livelihoods of innumerable
women and men in the South Asian informal sector. Improving record keeping, in-
creasing the understanding of production relations and processes and tracking the
processes of change through gender-based data collection and analyses would be the fi rst
step towards building pro-poor policies that actually work effectively at the grassroots
level. While some women are forced into small mines due to extreme poverty and
thereby suffer a great deal of exploitation, it is evident that simply preventing them
from working will not remove the primary cause of their vulnerability.
Livelihood Enhancement
What concrete policy steps could then be taken in promoting livelihoods in small
mines and quarries in South Asia? There are broad guidelines, such as the Government
of India’s Mineral Policy (2006), which notes that small mines and quarries may
t in well with the existing social and production structures—particularly seasonal
operation—in remote areas with little infrastructure, in a manner that is compatible
with agricultural production in the same area. However, no defi nitive measures are
either indicated or taken towards this direction. Enhancing the ability of small mines
and quarries to generate employment, income and entrepreneurial skills can indeed
reduce the push for outmigration to urban areas, but this would need to go hand in
hand with enhancing the ability of the workers in this sector. For example, if they are
locally owned and managed, small mines and quarries would provide a larger net gain
to the community and to the national economy than do larger, centrally or foreign-
owned mines. The fi rst efforts, therefore, would be made to support the workers to
earn decent wages and enable them to work in safe and healthy working conditions
in small mines and quarries. However, the process may be more diffi cult in reality due
to the extremely poor working conditions, low wages and semi-feudal structures and
production relations that still exist.
Mainstreaming Gender at the Policy Level
In developing livelihood enhancement strategies two important considerations are
involved: why gender needs to be integrated, and how it is to be done. To answer
the fi rst, one needs to explore contemporary developmental approaches which have
emphasised that gender equity is a core development issue, ‘a development objective
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Women’s Livelihoods in South Asia’s Small Mines and Quarries/235
in its own right’ (King and Mason 2001: xiii). Promoting gender equality as part of a
development strategy in small mines and quarries should not mean continuing with
or reinforcing the low status of women to men as well, but rather creating situations
that might enable all people to earn a decent living from a decent workplace, allowing
escape from poverty and improvement in the standard of living. The aim is to enhance
women’s decision-making power within the mine, the mining community and the
family as compared to men. This can be undertaken through gender mainstreaming
in both worker-centric and community-centric projects. Empowering women mine
workers has the potential to bring more tangible developmental outcomes than top-
down interventions such as the regularisation of informal mines. Women working in
small mines have limited opportunities in other non-farm activities due to their low
levels of skills and education. This forces them to work in mines that are essentially
low skill jobs. With greater use of technology in production, gender roles of workers
in small mines might change, negatively impacting women’s productive roles. Again,
social and economic policies leading to local changes may also negatively impact upon
women and there should therefore be an awareness to avoid such pitfalls.
To improve the lives of women in small mines and quarries, the immediate need is
to eliminate gender bias and harassment and accept women’s multiple and productive
roles in the economy, in society and at home. This will enhance womens ability to
ensure food security for the family and provide for children more effectively. For women
to benefi t from ASM, it is fi rst of all imperative to make their productive work more
visible, and to make their voices heard. At present, women and their labour are almost
invisible in the quarries and their issues are thereby neglected. Work is a part of any
human being’s life and women and men toiling in small mines and quarries in South
Asian countries are not an exception. The work in the mines must not be seen as a
negative or undesirable thing in itself, and legal frameworks restricting womens work
need to be revisited immediately. Women’s work in mining has been a contested area
since the advent of modern mining in Europe, and the response in general had been to
‘protect’ women from the poor conditions existing in the mines. In all South Asian
countries, women’s work in underground mines and at night is prohibited by law in an
effort to protect them. Equal rights to work and consequent economic benefi ts from
small mines and quarries, on the other hand, can be seen as enabling and empowering
for women. The need is to improve the conditions surrounding women’s work, and in
this regard, to include measures such as protecting womens interests, safety and health,
providing a safe and secure working environment, assuring continued employment
and old age security for citizens and improvements in wage levels. For this purpose, a
concerted effort is needed as many of these ills are closely associated with rural poverty,
patriarchal society and consequent exploitation of women. There is also a need to
ensure a more equitable distribution of economic benefi ts from ASM between women
and men. This would also involve giving incentives to women to own small mines
and quarries—possibly through a greater attention to land ownership and training
programmes—for their economic and social empowerment. These legal and economic
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236/Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt
measures are connected to a range of social and technical measures: ensuring health
and giving education to create livelihood options, training women to use machines
that lessen manual work burdens and providing training on risk, safety and security
to improve the overall productive effi ciency.
Programmes such as those taken up by the ILO in South Asian quarries would
benefi t from adopting a gender focus. To do this, commitment to gender mainstreaming
would need to begin at the international policy level and trickle down to the individual
country’s strategy level. The promotion of microcredit programmes can provide
nancing for women in communities on mineral tracts. Gueìrin and Palier (2005)
have shown how small interventions as microfi nance and credit for women have been
effective in dealing with the problem of debt bondage in certain cases. They have also
pointed out that fi nancing women has been more effective in poverty eradication than
providing credit to male heads of households. Elsewhere, there are examples of locally
based non-governmental organisations that are making marginal improvements in
women mine workers’ lives and also in making their voices heard. The Mine Labour
Protection Campaign (MLPC), based in Udaipur, has focused on mine labour
issues in Rajasthan’s marble and stone quarries (MLPC 2006). Similarly, the Mines
Monitoring Centre of the Bindrai Institute for Research Study & Action (BIRSA),
based in Ranchi, the Jharkhand Mines Area Coordination Committee (JMACC) and
Jharkhandi Organisation for Human Rights (JOHAR) have an important presence in
the adivasi communities that work Jharkhand’s stone and limestone quarries (BIRSA
2003; JOHAR n.d.).
Development policy in recent years has increasingly focussed its attention on the
area of women’s work in the informal economy including the small mining sector
(Heemskerk 2003). However, as we noted in our research, women form the poorest in
the small mining economy that itself is a repository of extreme poverty and exploitation.
Such is their invisibility that often the perceptions of stakeholders regarding womens
work roles and issues surrounding their work are not well developed and omitted
from the opinions of experts. For example, there is not yet a real appreciation of the
production relations that tie women and men into bondages of various sorts within
the mines and quarries. Another example is the use of technology; the ability to use
technology or ‘appropriate technology’ is often seen by ASM experts as gender-neutral
and the panacea for all social ills. However, in my study, I noticed that technology
intensive mining processes not only tend to exclude women but relegate them to
lower status and low skilled jobs. Often these are more risky and dangerous jobs, and
reproduce the social biases against women workers within the industrial production
in mines and quarries. Consequently, the status of women in the ASM economy
is low and the strategic and gender needs and concerns of women are not fulfi lled.
Existing laws regarding small mines and quarries are unclear and ill-defi ned; the legal
framework on women’s work needs to be revisited. This is not uncommon for any part
of the informal sector. However, small mining and quarrying is here to stay. Leases for
small mines and quarries are becoming a source of revenue for the states, and the state
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Women’s Livelihoods in South Asia’s Small Mines and Quarries/237
mineral development corporations are aggressively advancing mining and quarrying.
However, the responsibilities of these corporations do not extend to ensuring gender
equity, a safe working environment and secure wages. Being loosely controlled, even the
licensed quarries create environmental pollution and hazards for the region and local
residents. Near metropolitan cities and capitals, for example in India, environmental
degradation caused by the quarries has led to several public interest litigations and the
rise of powerful civil society movements.
These considerations lead us to ask a critical question: will promoting women’s work
in the ASM sector in South Asia improve the quality of life for rural poor women of
the countries involved? This question has great implications for developing pro-poor
livelihood policies that are effective in three areas: (i) sustaining economic benefi ts
for the states, for the families and for the individuals, in other words sustaining the
development from mineral extraction; (ii) raising the well-being of the innumerable
poor people engaged annually or seasonally in small mining and quarrying, in other
words poverty alleviation through income generation; and (iii) raising the standards
of living in meeting the Millennium Development Goals. The answer, if there is one
at all, is defi nitely in the positive, although the need of the hour is to develop a gen-
der sensitive and pro-poor framework of developmental interventions that would
be effective in dealing with the big challenges that small mines and quarries pose to
policy makers.
End Notes
1. Indeed, the International Labour Organisation (ILO 2002) observed that employment in the formal
mining sector had been declining due to the increased use of machines in production. Although the
recent mining boom throughout the world might have reversed this trend, jobs in formal mining have
been shrinking generally due to mechanisation.
2. ‘Informal’ here implies the large range of activities and practices in mining and quarrying: digging,
cutting, panning, processing, breaking, amalgamating, carrying, transporting and marketing of a wide
range of minerals or products from the earth’s surface or the interior. In my earlier works (Lahiri-Dutt
2003a, 2004) I have used the term informal as coterminous of ASM.
3. Gunson and Yue (2001) showed that the estimated 6 million or so artisanal miners in China produce
at least 11 per cent of the world coal output, outproducing comfortably the entire coal industry of
India or Australia.
4. Some of the material—including those done by our partners—from this research is now available at
our website (www.asmasiapacifi
5. The word ‘livelihood’ means the command an individual, family or other social group has over an
income/or bundles of resources that can be used or exchanged to satisfy its needs. This may involve
information, cultural knowledge, social networks, legal rights as well as tools, land or other physical
resources (Blakie et al. 1994; Valdivia and Gilles 2001). The livelihood approach to understanding
survival strategies of the poor people as well as development processes has received a spurt in the last
6. According to Census of India, ‘Marginal workers’ were those who worked any time at all in the year
preceding the enumeration but did not work for a major part of the year, i.e., those who worked for
less than 183 days (or six months). They are often landless labourers or farmers engaged in various
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238/Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt
informal jobs during the non-cropping season. ‘Main workers’ were those who had worked for the major
part of the year preceding the date of enumeration, i.e., those who were engaged in any economically
productive activity for 183 days (or six months) or more during the year (Census of India 2001).
7. Illegal mining also occurred, and Arthashastra gave instructions on how to deal with it: ‘A mine worker
who steals mineral products except precious stones shall be punished with a fi ne of eight times their
value. Any person who steals mineral products or carries on mining operations without license shall
be bound (with chains) and caused to work (as a prisoner).’ However, in India, illegal mining needs
to be placed within the broader context of the (lack of) environmental and social justice in mining
areas, an issue that I have raised in a recent work (see Lahiri-Dutt 2007a).
8. Mines and Geology for license to mine; the local forest department which establishes the status of the
area in their records and through physical verifi cation, and issues a ‘no objection certifi cate’ (NOC);
the Ministry of Environment and Forests to ascertain the implications and repercussions on local
forests; the District Collector; the Sub-district or tehsil offi cials or the Patwaris, and the head of the
village council or Panchayat pradhan—all requiring to survey the current use of the land and to provide
NOCs. In some cases, State Pollution Boards are also involved.
9. Personal communication with Professor Shen Li, who is an authority on ASM in China and the head
of CASM China network. See
10. ‘The potential hazards from silicosis have been known for a long time, and a number of state gov-
ernments [in India] have passed legislation to address this…. [However, such developments have] meant
nothing in practice; to date, no person affected with silicosis has ever received any compensation or
reimbursement of cost of treatment by court orders in Rajasthan. Besides the fact that almost none
of the mine workers are aware of the regulations and laws, the procedure for fi ling a compensation
petition is very complicated. The biggest hurdle in the whole process is the diffi culty in obtaining
a certifi cate from the Pneumoconiosis Board. With the board inordinately delayed—and even then
largely idle—actual relief for the mineworkers remains out of reach’. (India Together 2005)
11. The rst systematic survey of bonded labour, carried out by the Gandhi Peace Foundation and National
Labour Institute in 1978, placed the number of bonded labourers at 2.62 million. The survey also
found that 61.5 per cent of the bonded labourers were from the Schedules Castes (SC), or lower castes
and 25 per cent were from the Scheduled Tribes (ST), or the indigenous peoples/adivasis (Marla 1981).
The National Commission on Rural Labour (NCRL 1991) presented a clearer picture of bonded
labour in India. It took note of bondage among women on account of social as well as economic
factors and mentioned the examples of indebtedness-induced prostitution of women and children.
The Commission also mentioned the high incidence of child bondage and tribal exploitation in many
parts of the country. Of the vast number of bonded labourers in South Asia, a large proportion is
toiling away in small mines and quarries and crushers (Ministry of Labour 1991). The United Nations
Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery estimated that 10 million of the 20 million slaves
of the modern world live in India alone, of whom more than half are women and children (UN 1999).
Human Rights Watch (1996) puts the fi gure at a higher level: ‘Approximately fi fteen million children
work as bonded labourers in India.’
12. The term is used to mean children between 5 to 14 years of age, in gainful occupation injurious to their
physical, mental, moral and social development, used as synonyms of ‘employed child’ or ‘working
child’, young people who are leading adult lives, working long hours for low wages.
13. Many national or state machineries for women set up during the 1950s in most third world countries
still refl ect a ‘welfare approach’ to women’s issues in their nomenclature; in India for example, the
ministry is still known as Ministry of Women and Childrens Welfare and in Bangladesh Women
and Children’s Affairs, putting women and children’s concerns in the same category. The implicit
understanding behind such nomenclature is the acceptance of motherhood as the primary role and
responsibility of women. It is assumed that women will automatically benefi t from improvements in
the conditions of their families, with the benefi ts trickling down through the male head of households
(Elson 1995). Changes are however in the air; the Pakistan government now calls the relevant institution
South Asian Survey 15, 2 (2008): 217–244
Women’s Livelihoods in South Asia’s Small Mines and Quarries/239
the Ministry of Women Development and Sri Lanka Ministry of Womens Empowerment and Social
Welfare, although essentially these institutions remain weak and under-resourced.
14. The general approach so far in South Asia has been to create ‘special’ measures for women in various
elds. Examples of such protective measures are many: beginning from the recent 73rd and 74th
amendments of the Indian Constitution reserving seats for women to enhancing their political
participation, to old Acts or legal provisions such as breast feeding breaks for women workers under The
Plantation Labour Act, 1951; prohibition of night work, provision of crèches (for factories employing
over 13 women workers) under the Factories Act, 1948; and fi nally, the prohibition of women from
working underground under the Indian Mines Act of 1952. Often, in informal sector employment,
these provisions are not followed or enforced. In fact, often in cases of accidents or collapse of unoffi cial
mines or quarries, women have been found underground, either dead or injured. Above all, these very
measures are cited as barriers for the gainful employment of women. Intended as a means to protect
them from harsh working conditions, these measures usually work to act against women in the labour
15. Article 24 of the Indian Constitution states that no child up to the age of 14 shall be employed in any
factory or mine. The Labour Act of 1951, the Mines Act of 1952 and the Factories Act of 1954 also
strictly prohibit the employment of child labour.
16. These include protective bans on womens underground work and night work, but actually throw
women into more vulnerability by taking away their legitimacy as workers in mines.
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... Mining operations also generate social problems like displacement from ancestral home/land, crime, theft, prostitution, corruption, smuggling, and other social evils (Andrew, 2003;Aubynn, 2009). Furthermore, the incidence of alcoholism, substance abuse, domestic violence, and polygamy is more severe in the mining areas (Ilic, 1996;Areeparampil, 1996;Lahiri-Dutt, 2001;Das, 2005;Sakthivel & Joddar, 2006;Symon, 2007;Sundaram, 2008;Nathan, 2009;Mishra, 2009;O'Faircheallaigh, 2011). Mining activity's socioeconomic and environmental costs impose a heavy price on people in the mining locality. ...
... They are in a less advantageous position in getting employment opportunities, better income, and other benefits in the mines. Furthermore, the high bargaining power of private mines has expanded gender discrimination by squeezing job security for women (Lahiri-Dutt, 2001). The condition of women in the mining area is more precarious as they do not get compensation for their land acquired by mines due to patriarchal land ownership issues, 19 nor are adequate Author's compilation from the field survey jobs available to them. ...
... Women are the biggest victims of this damaged social order, especially with increased violence, molestation, and prostitution in the locality. The incidence of alcoholism, substance abuse, domestic violence, and polygamy is more severe in the mining areas (Ilic, 1996;Areeparampil, 1996;Lahiri-Dutt, 2001;Das, 2005;Sakthivel & Joddar, 2006;Symon, 2007;Sundaram, 2008;Nathan, 2009;Mishra, 2009;O'Faircheallaigh, 2011). Many women workers of the selected sample, who faced molestation at the workplace, generally do not want to complain to their higher authority because they fear job loss. ...
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... As per the data provided by The Hindu Kolkota edition (2 nd Jan 2019), it is remarkable to note that between 2015 to 2017 there are 377 death cases registered due to mining accident. Most importantly women workers are the worst sufferer by mining activity as the scope of working opportunities are less for them due to policy issues (Dutt, 2001). Mining activity causes heap of problem in social order i.e. theft, molestation, prostitution, corruption, crime, alcoholism, domestic violence, gundaism and abuse of natural, social and human resource (Ilic, 1996 andDutt, 2001). ...
... Most importantly women workers are the worst sufferer by mining activity as the scope of working opportunities are less for them due to policy issues (Dutt, 2001). Mining activity causes heap of problem in social order i.e. theft, molestation, prostitution, corruption, crime, alcoholism, domestic violence, gundaism and abuse of natural, social and human resource (Ilic, 1996 andDutt, 2001). Illegal mining activity and export of minerals incurs huge losses of public property and creates threats for the sustainable development. ...
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... Even though there is legal provision for women to work in mines, the private mining companies in India do not encourage women to work in the mines. They believe men workers are physically strong and suited for this nature of work, whereas women workers are less productive, more prone to health hazards, and more bargaining in nature (Kareem et al., 2022;Lahiri-Dutt, 2001). Extra monetary support for women like pregnancy and maternity benefits are an additional burden to mine owners that they do not want to pay. ...
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This paper assessed the impact of mining operations on the health of mining workers. Additionally, the challenges faced by mine workers due to health issues and provisions arranged by mines for workers’ healthcare were analysed from the social work and human rights perspectives. A cross-sectional study was conducted in a mineral-rich district of Odisha, India, by covering 257 households consisting of 296 mine workers of both public and private sector mines. The result showed mining operations had a critical negative environmental and occupational health impact on workers. Diseases like colds, cough, fever, bronchitis, jaundice, acute respiratory infection, gallbladder stone, blood pressure, skin disease, tuberculosis, and joint pain occurred frequently with greater intensity along with the deformity and death caused by mining accidents. Against the losses, the workers hardly receive compensation as mandated by Mining Act, 1952 and Director General of Mines Safety guidelines due to their lack of information, casual job contracts, poor implementation of mining law, lack of monitoring of mining activities by the government, and the profit-maximizing behaviour of the mines. In this context, the study followed the human rights and workers’ right principles and provisions of United Nations-Human Right Council, World Health Organization, International Labour Organization, and the Mining Act, 1952, and recommends a set of principles, i.e. employment of an adequate number of qualified health social workers/human right professionals both at micro and macro levels, and formulates an appropriate plan to ensure good health and well-being to mining workers. Additionally, strict implementation of mining laws, periodic social and environmental impact assessment, permanent job contracts to workers, social protection and security of workers, and creation of adequate health infrastructure in the mining locality is essential.
... At the beginning of the coal extraction in the colonial period, the 'family system' of workers was the characteristic of Indian mines. Where all the family members-male and female worked together, this type of system prevailed mainly because of the unwillingness of the workers to work with other castes (Lahiri- Dutt, 2001). The caste system in India assigns 'caste Hindus' social duties and divides them into strata. ...
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This study attempts to construe the first-ever coalmine-oriented Bengali fiction from a social, historical, and geographic perspective. Sailjananda Mukhopadhyay wrote Koylakuthi (the coal miners' office) in 1922, representing Bengal's coal mines. This study aims to reconstruct the miners' society from the early 20th Century with narratives from this story and examine the societal challenges and changes a hundred years apart. A comparative study of the mining geo-cultural landscape of the 1920s Bengal and its contemporary counterpart is carried out. Changed geography, technology, and community are observed. And it reveals that areal expansion of the coalfields has increased production, and technological advancement has increased the safety and security of the miner class. However, the labour structure, class and caste hierarchy, and patriarchal mindset have hardly changed.
... Feminist historians such as Sone (2006: 154-5) and Hane (1982: 233-6) have both shown that women formed a major part of the colliery workforce in Japan until around 1946 when they were completely banned. In colonial India the 'modern' coal mining economy also depended heavily on women's labour, often as part of family labour units (Lahiri-Dutt 2000). In more recent times, modern mechanised mines have hired women to operate trucks and other heavy equipment. ...
... Finally, when women are primarily figured as embodied vulnerability, men's own risks, including to their reproductive capacity, 7 are either minimized or completely invisibilized (Whitworth 1994, 397;Lahiri-Dutt 2001). Men appear in the Minamata assemblage as miners, but not as fathers, husbands, or brothers for whom mercury exposure may also be a concern. ...
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This paper considers the apparent confluence of three policy developments: the Sustainable Development Goals, as the latest international commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment; the growing push to formalize the artisanal and small-scale mining sector; and the call to address environmental concerns of ASM through increased regulation, including formalization. Informed by feminist political economy and political ecology scholarship, we consider the kinds of gendered meanings about gold ASM (ASGM) and the environment made possible through the points where formal policy commitments to ASGM, environmental protection and women’s inclusion intersect, or fail to intersect. We explore three contexts in which environment narratives have been framed and/or mobilized: the 2014 Minamata Convention on Mercury, followed by two brief case studies examining the consequences of the enforcement of gender-blind environmental initiatives on the livelihoods of women artisanal gold miners in central Mozambique and eastern Ghana. The paper concludes with three recommendations for future work on the intersection of environmental protection programs and women’s empowerment agendas for the ASGM sector.
... The physical aspect, agriculture, natural calamities, means of communi-cation and population characteristics written in this book helped in gathering information regarding concerned area. K.L. Dutta (2001) in her article explored socio-economic problems faced by women workers in the coalfields. This article is concentrated mainly upon the field of gender bias in the coal mines of Raniganj area. ...
Mountainous regions of the world act as the reservoirs of water due to their enormous snow and glacier resources. Quantification of snow and glacier melt runoff is important for water resource management in the downstream areas. The present study applies Snowmelt Runoff Model (SRM) to estimate the streamflow for Sind catchment in Kashmir Himalayas. In-situ daily temperature and precipitation data along with Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MODIS) derived Snow Cover Area (SCA) were used to calibrate and validate the model. Digital Elevation Model (DEM) was used to prepare the area elevation curve of the Sind catchment. Several model parameters for streamflow were optimized during the calibration period (2011 - 2013) which were validated during 2014 - 2015. The accuracy of the model using coefficient of determination (R2) varied from 0.76 during calibration and 0.87 during validation period. The percentage difference in the volume (Dv) during the study period was around 3%. The results depict the relative capability of SRM to estimate the streamflow though more accurate estimation of model parameters can increase the model simulation results
... The physical aspect, agriculture, natural calamities, means of communi-cation and population characteristics written in this book helped in gathering information regarding concerned area. K.L. Dutta (2001) in her article explored socio-economic problems faced by women workers in the coalfields. This article is concentrated mainly upon the field of gender bias in the coal mines of Raniganj area. ...
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The objectives of this paper are to describe an historical account that includes transfer of ownership, nationalisation and mining under public/private ownership. The results shows that the newly started coal mines consisting separate units were runing under private owners and later on taken by Coal Mines Authority Ltd (CMAL) under Coal Mines Nationalisation Act in 1973. Consequently, these collieries were brought under public ownership from private ownership. In 1975, these collieries were incorporated under Eastern Coalfields Limited (a subsidiary of Coal India Limited) for extracting coal that fall under the administrative control of Salanpur Area which is an administrative block of ECL. During post-nationalisation period these collieries registered a low production although ECL had considered both underground and opencast methods of working to augment production but decline trend was continued as reserve in working seams was exhausted and non-availability of land for further mining operation due to illegitimate demand from local people. To meet the growing demand of coal for energy sector and other use, mining under private companies has been approved by ECL and also granted mining leases for operation.
... Yet several studies have suggested that Indigenous women are less likely to be employed in resource work than Indigenous men. Although this gender disparity also applies to non-Indigenous women and poor women internationally (Lahiri-Dutt, 2001;, exclusion from resource employment is particularly critical for Indigenous women living in northern communities with often few other employment opportunities (Reed, 1999;Mills, 2006;Rude and Deiter, 2004). For example, a study by Southcott (2003) found that women in Northern Ontario had lower participation rates than men in Northern Ontario and than women in Ontario as a whole. ...
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The history of labour on public works construction is usually presented as a masculine experience, either because the workforce studied is mostly male, or because the labour of women remains unrecorded. Does the history of labour and wage on public works undergo change if we account for women labourers? This article examines this question in the context of famine public works in the second half of nineteenth-century India. State employment on public works was part of a famine relief programme and women, largely from agricultural labouring and small peasant families, worked on the construction of roads, railways, canals, and tanks. The article traces the development of task-gender association on famine public works both as a norm and in practice. Further, it analyses the evidence on negotiations made by women labourers themselves with the existing gendered notions of work and wage. This study contributes to the historiography of labour in a colonial context in two ways: first, it adds to the existing corpus on forms of labour extraction for construction work; and, second, it explores the question of women's work and remuneration outside factories, mills, and mines.
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Despite the existence of tenancy laws that seek to protect adivasi rights to land in the Santhal Parganas, recent years have seen the considerable transfer of land from adivasis to contractors mainly through privately negotiated, temporary lease arrangements. This has serious implications for the employment and health of local populations as well as for the sustenance, in the long term, of common property resources and local livelihoods. At the same time, siltation and flooding in the upstream and lower reaches of the Masanjore dam have rendered cultivable land in several villages useless. As most of the adivasi population in the region depends on agriculture for its livelihood, the need to revise and rethink development strategies is of utmost importance.
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This paper analyzes the relations between gender and gold mining among the Ndjuka Maroons, forest peoples in Suriname, South America. Today, gold mining has become the primary source of subsistence for many Ndjuka families. Yet in contrast to other parts of the world, few Ndjuka women participate in mining. The researcher examines how the gender system in Ndjuka society accounts for the male domination of gold mining, and how some women have negotiated traditional gender roles. Quantitative and qualitative data support the conclusion that the limited participation of Ndjuka women in gold mining is a product their limited access to critical resources and mobility. The internalization of gender ideology, and the dependence of women on men, prevents women from challenging existing gender roles and power structures in society. The women who engage in mining are typically poor single mothers who have adopted urban gender beliefs. Poverty and prior market experience inform their choice to become gold miners. On a theoretical level, it is argued that gender systems are changing continuously, under the influences of time, space, political process, and economic development. It appears that when the economic contribution of women becomes indispensable to household survival, cultural restrictions to the mobility and economic power of women necessarily weaken. The researcher emphasizes that the heterogeneity among women differentiates the options and constraints of individual women who make livelihood decisions. The conclusion is drawn that development efforts will only be effective when such efforts fully recognize the dynamism of gender systems and the heterogeneity among women.
This report was commissioned by the MMSD project of IIED. It remains the sole responsibility of the author(s) and does not necessarily reflect the views of the MMSD project, Assurance Group or Sponsors Group, or those of IIED or WBCSD.
The system of debt bondage in the gem‐cutting industry of South India is considered. Evidence is examined from intensive field work in villages in Tamilnadu, and one large village in particular, which has been a major centre in the synthetic gem‐cutting industry for 70 years. It is argued, against various authors, that here bonded labour is not a pre‐capitalist relation of production. Rather, it is part of a dynamic, capitalist small‐scale industry that is rapidly expanding into global markets. Moreover, since 1990 a dramatic change is noted in part of the industry: the introduction of semiautomatic machinery, with which a new product (the American diamond) is made. This has led, inter alia, to the displacement of women workers. The profits earned by employers, the nature of relations between employers and workers, and especially the use of kinship ideology, and the relevant inter‐connections are explored.