Hard men in black gold land

Hazara men preferred as coal miners for one tragic quality
Miners in Balochistan's Harnai district. Photo Credit: File/Quetta Voice
Miners in Balochistan's Harnai district. Photo Credit: File/Quetta Voice

“Hamaray qabristano may jaga khatam hogai hay." This is how a young Baseera describes it. Our cemeteries have run out of space.

She is one of the hundreds of incensed Hazaras who are on the third day of their sit-in on Quetta’s outskirts to protest the slaughter of 11 coal miners in Machh, which is nestled in the raw mountains of the Bolan Pass connecting to Sindh and Punjab. They said they will not budge until Prime Minister Imran Khan comes to promise he will have the killers arrested.

It is a double tragedy, not just of ethnicity and faith but class and labour. These miners were not only poor men, but also from a long line of Shia Hazaras who had been descending into the bowels of the earth for five decades. “They were working in a private coal mine with no security," said one mine owner who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter. “Hazara miners acha kam kartay hain. Ye sakht kaam he, iss liye hum Hazara miners rakhtay hain.” Hazara miners are good, hardy labourers. This is back-breaking labour which is why we keep them.

Except, for all their hardness, these men were sitting ducks for those who wanted to pick them off, one by one.

As it is, scores of them were already dying at work. The extraction takes place thousands of feet deep. Explosions, collapses, landsliding and fires have already killed them from Machh to Harnai, Dukki to Chamalang. “We were already protesting against explosions inside mines when the 11 miners were brutally murdered," said Pir Muhammad Kakar, the central leader of the Balochistan Mines Association. (For more comprehensive coverage of the mines see Quetta Voice).

Coal is called black gold here, for the province supplies hundreds of trucks of it to Punjab. Mine owner Fateh Shah said that they send it to Faisalabad and other Punjab areas. The miners are paid Rs1,200 to Rs2,000 a day.

As of the publication of this report, the protesters had blocked the main road linking Quetta to the rest of the country. Federal Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed had tried to persuade them to bury the dead but they said they would not move until Prime Minister Imran Khan moved.



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