Stone Dust

All photographs ©2008 Akshay Mahajan/Oxfam.
All rights reserved. This image may not be reproduced without expressed written permission from Oxfam.

Stone Dust © Oxfam Australia

The boulders here are hard enough that the scavengers who have taken over the abandoned quarry south of downtown prefer not to strike them directly with their hammers.They heat the rocks first — with flaming tires, scrap plastic, even old rubber boots — so that the stones will fracture more easily. At dusk, when three or four blazes spew choking black clouds across the huge pit, the quarry looks like a woodcut out of Dante.

At the mouth of this stone quarry in Pune Maharashtra, diminutive women in saris toil 14 hour shifts breaking boulders into cricket-ball sized chunks of stone. Sledgehammers cut through to the air to the sound of splintering stone. Just behind them roared large machines that chewed up stone only to spit out construction gravel. Almost everybodies face was smeared with a white dust. A dust, heavy and suffocating, floating in the air like mist covering everything.

At the nearby settlement of Swegnagar, Laxmibai tells me about her work, "After washing, I make the fifteen minute walk to the quarry where I work, under a plastic tarp mounted on scavenged tree branches."

She adds, "I worked in this place for as long as I can remember. There is not a day in my life that has not involved breaking stone. I broke stone when I was a child, I broke stone when I was pregnant, I broke stone the day I gave birth."

Push and pull factors, bring people from all over Maharashtra and neighboring states to work at these stone quarries. Without local documents like ration cards and voters cards these men and women are invisible. As far as the Indian government is concerned some of them do not even exist.

Stone Dust © Oxfam Australia


Stone Dust © Oxfam Australia


Stone Dust © Oxfam Australia


Stone Dust © Oxfam Australia


Stone Dust © Oxfam Australia
[Suresh works in this purgatory six days a week.Nine years old, nearly lost in a hooded sweatshirt with a skateboarder on the chest, he takes football-size chunks of fractured rock and beats them into powder]


Stone Dust © Oxfam Australia


Stone Dust © Oxfam Australia

[ After many years of breaking silica stone, crushing it, breathing it in as dust and coughing it out as disease, Raja Vitkar has been left too ill even to walk upright, and too breathless to tell his story.

A large number of quarry workers die a slow death without any compensation from their employers, having no proof to link their illness to the conditions of work.

Silicosis, one of the oldest occupational diseases, still kills thousands of people every year, everywhere in the world. It is an incurable lung disease caused by inhalation of dust containing free crystalline silica. It is irreversible and, moreover, the disease progresses even when exposure stops. Extremely high exposures are associated with much shorter latency and more rapid disease progression.]

More pictures from this series HERE

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Banno said...

It's always insensitive to say these are beautiful photographs, when the photos are of such poor, desperate people. But the photos ARE great.

Just couldn't understand Laxmibai's statement, "plastic tarp & scavenged tree branches". Is that where she works, or where she lives?

Akshay said...

I tried to be as sensitive as I could be while approaching the subject. The people may be poor and live in atrocious conditions but they're still beautiful. They live here with most times a smile.

Yes that is where she works. She lives in a house similar to the house in photo6 - a stone hovel 4 feet high

Thanks you for your comment.

Sebastian said...

Good story, interesting topic.

Haven't heard of that problem before, makes this article even more interesting. The photographs are good, I especially liked the portraits (#0 and #5) - think that especially #5 sums up lots about life there (as said in the article). Enjoyed the Flickr set too.

Haven't read an interesting blog entry as that in a while, thanks!

Edgar Dantas said...

i tried to be sensative after seeing the topic they really require some sympatty
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Aditi said...

interesting write up and some very good photos. looking forward to read more of such good stuff. :)

mangesh said...

such a nice photos and nice colors also

panu said...

wow. its the only thing i can come up with. i am sort of speechless now.

Madhu said...

If a photograph can bring tears to your eyes you had suceeded. Next time I pity my ill health I will think about the man too sick to tell his story.

Is Oxfam helping these folks. I could not understand the link to Oxfam.


Akshay said...

sebastian - For starters, I look at your stuff from time to time, it is a candid look at where you live.

Glad you liked this work.

Edgar - thanks for the comment.

Aditi - lookforward to seeing you around :)

Mangesh - thanks

Madhu - Oxfam supports an NGO called Santulan that works with Stone Quarry workers and those a fantastic job of it, at that.

It was part of a documentation mission to create material to show their sponsors, to continue the support.

Rajesh Dangi said...

Great post Akshay! Eyeopener...

Vinod P said...

Hope your effort makes a difference and their conditions improve.


Prayas said...

very touching man. Right to the perception.
keep blogging to innovate eyes.

Ganesh Shenoy said...

Hi Akshay, Nice photographs Sir. Really liked them.

Serendipity said...

your photographs are like paintings - i must admit im a little upset at seeing the pictures above.

How helpless these people are..

Anonymous said...

I must say you have a lot of courage to go ahead and take photos. You need to be strong hearted to do this. Isnt life bloody unfair? or is this country? Or the people in it?

Good pictures anyway!

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I like your template picture. Wirey branches with green, against warm blue sky. Sometimes my moods are like that. :)

Anu said...

Absolutely gorgeous, gorgeous pictures. I couldn't tear my eyes away! The colours and the contrast in all your photographs, particularly in this post, are amazingly crisp -- all the textures jump right out of the screen!
Heh.. sorry, I tend to get carried away, especially when it comes to photography :)

If I may ask, what camera do you use? And do you do any post-processing?

indicaspecies said...

Poignant post.

BlogBug said...

The photos are great.. revealing a good story.. everyone of us (commenting) knows this happens actually, then why do we need a photos series like this to think about it.. that's a sadder story as i come to think of it.

Amith said...

Nice Picture..and good articles

simstreetbenz said...

I just stopped by and found your blog very interesting, since I'm doing Landscape Thesis in Limestone quarry reclamation. I would to ask for the permission to use of some pictures of you, which clearly represents the effect of mining and quarry to the local people and workers, to be used in the presentation for the professor to understand more about mining consequences. Either yes or no the answer is, is ok. Thanks in advance.

Btw, you took really nice photos and it such an outstanding environment to enter, keep up your good works.