On a drizzling afternoon in August last year, Raju Bhuyan, a 42-year-old resident of Mohari Baandhin Jharkhand’s Jharia town, was roaming the streets of the colony. His attention was suddenly drawn to the wall of a nearby house, on which cracks began to appear. Just as he turned his eyes away from the wall, Bhuyan recalled, a deafening thud reverberated in the neighbourhood. He realised then it was a bhudhasaan—subsidence—and he ran home to save his family. But “because there was no electricity, my wife and kids were already outside,” Bhuyan told me. “Tada-tad ghar girne lage.Sab apna ghar chodkar bhagne lage” (One after the other, the houses began to fall. Everyone began to flee their homes.)
Subsidence—the collapse of the surface land—is common in Jharia’s coalfields, owing to the underground mining in the area. When I met Bhuyan, in early November, we stood on the cratered ground of the Mohari Baandh, surrounded by the rubble of homes destroyed during the subsidence he had described. According to Bisnu Bhuyan, another resident of the colony, around 10–12 houses had completely sunk into the ground, and an additional 100—150 houses had been damaged. Despite the damage to their homes, both Raju and Bisnu, like several other residents, continued to live in Mohari Baandh—under tents made of black plastic sheets, which they had pitched beside the road bypassing the colony—because they had not been provided any rehabilitation yet.
Mohari Baandh is a predominantly Dalit colony located on the edge of the Kujama coal mine, where most of the colony’s residents are employed as labourers. The colony is made up primarily of three rows of houses that were distinguishable by the extent to which they had been affected by the surface subsidence. The houses in the first row, which stood beside the main road—the furthest from the mine—showed slight cracks but still had occupants residing in them. The second row, situated further into the colony, was marked by houses with large craters that had debris of bricks in them. The third row, which was closest to the Kujuma mine, comprised abandoned houses , while the surface of a few among them continuously released thick, billowing smoke.