Mica, a well known natural mineral which gives cosmetic products, its shininess and radiance comes with a great price, way more than any man can afford, the price is Life. Reading to the labels of many cosmetic products, be it lipstick, eyeshadow pallet, highlighter, shimmer, et cetera, all product will have mica as their integral ingredient.
The use of mica is not limited to the spectrum of cosmetic world but is generously used in paints and electronic products as well.
Mica seems to be soft and innocent natural mineral available in abundance but if we look deep down to the alleys of its origin, the picture is dull, dark and gloomy.
India constitute about 60% of the world’s mica production. About 95% of India’s mica is found in North-Eastern part of India in the states of Andhra pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar where population around 40%, 46%, and 33% respectively lives below poverty line. Ironically, even after contributing enourmously in the global mica production, these states suffer with the problem with poverty, hunger and starvation.
The families residing in these states put themselves in the mica belt to earn a daily wage for their survival. Not only this, children as old as 5 years go deep down to the narrow crumbling shafts with hammer and chisel to cut the soil and scrap mica out of it.
In an interview to the Reuters, one of the mica worker says,”We don’t know what mica is, where it goes and it is used for. All I know is that if I work hard and collect it, I will get some money,” she said adding that she gathers around 10 kg of the mica daily which earns her 80 rupees ($1).” The plight of the workers who is alienated from his own work signifies the perfect example of resource curse, meaning the resources abundances region is vulnerable to exploitation. Earnings from mining barely gives enough money to feed the family, so thinking about education, healthcare , and other luxuries are out the picture.
According to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulations) Act, 1986 (Act No.. 61 of 1986), Indian law forbids any means of child labour below fourteen years of age. But the mica miner who are left with no shelter, no food are forced to work in these belts risking their and their child lives for the living.
According to the reports – about 70% of the mica mining production is from illegal mining. Although legal mines do not give guarantee of fair wages and good working condition with equipments but illegal mining is subjected to more exploitation and abuse of child labour. The work at the mica caves are dangerous and possess many serious threats like lung disease, loss of eyesight or mine collapse which in turn gives serious health injuries and sometimes even leads to death. Many families have lost their loved ones but still do the same job as there is no other alternative of livelihood and sustainability.
According to the Dutch campaign group SOMO, it is estimated that up to 20,000 children are involved in mica mining, leading to the child’s future, bleak and deserted.
Mining in India is not just associated with the exploitation of child labour but is also putting threats to the global world. The villagers nearby the mica belts cut trees on a regular basis to bring more and more land under mining for scraping mica out of it. Cutting trees provides dual benefits to them firstly, more land comes under mining and secondly, the woods are used in household chores and sometime families sell timber woods in the market and earn money.
Having seen the horror scenario of both child labour and deforestation, A Paris Based Responsible Mica Initiative (RMI) has taken the task to eradicate child exploitation and is extensively working towards the safeguard of the environment.
Apart from the RMI, the most effective on ground is the Kailash Satyarthi Children Foundation (KSCF) which aims to give better lives and education to the children.
KSCF also provides children with saplings to create awareness about the environment. Up till now approximately 3000 children have been rescued from the mica belt, but the list is too long to cover.
Mica, that we consume in the shape of our cosmetic products costs lives to produce. Men, women, children become just a means to an end, serving a life of wage slavery, unable to break from it. Without proper gears, miners are forced to work in harsh conditions which deprives them from a dignified life. It is our responsibility, the consumers to rise up to this blatantly abuse of human rights and work for more environment friendly and human friendly products.
Nikhat Yasmeen studies Commerce and Finance at Aligarh Muslim University. Views expressed are personal.