10 year old Sooraj, works in a ‘rat-hole’. The ‘rat-hole’ mines in the Jaintia Hills (NorthEast India) are narrow strips of coal deposits requiring children to descend down steep, sheer chutes and burrow into narrow horizontal tunnels to scratch coal out of hard rock, armed with nothing more than a pickaxe and a head torch. In these hostile pits, everyday is a game of death.
Unlike thousands of poor children, who are often lured to the boomtown of Lad Rymbhai by the prospects of quick money, Sooraj was born into this life. His father and mother, came to the Jaintia Hills from Nepal as immigrant workers but never returned. With his mother no more, Sooraj now lives with his father and sister. He sleeps with his father in a makeshift shack and eats at his married sister’s shack. While Sooraj cherishes hope of going to school one day and escape a life in the coalmines, he realizes that it is perhaps a distant dream. He understands that he will get no support from his alcoholic father, who could never be concerned and possibly none from his sister either, since she has a son of her own to bring up. And so, at such a tender age, with a pragmatic acceptance he goes into the mines everyday in order to earn his own money and become independent.
While not in the mines, Sooraj is a spunky 10 year-old like any other – playing with Shaila (another 11 year old who works in the mines), hunting for fish or birds, helping with domestic chores and playing games on his mobile phone.
However, this precarious existence is broken when his sister’s family decides to return to Nepal – a decision prompted by the sister’s 3 year-old falling ill. Sooraj decides he doesn’t want to go – he feels Nepal is not home to him, and refuses to be dependent on his sister and her whims. But when he learns that Shaila will also be returning to Nepal to join school, it shatters the little he hangs onto in his life. Suddenly, one morning Sooraj disappears and no one knows where he is gone. Efforts to find him are to no avail. The family leaves. Some time later, it’s discovered that Sooraj is living at a former mining camp and has enrolled himself in a local school with financial help from some older friends.
Project Supported by:
Britdoc Foundation – Puma Creative Catalyst Award
IDFA – Bertha Fund
“The funding was provided at a crucial juncture in the development of the film and I really appreciate that Sally-Ann and the team at CBA recognized this and reposed their confidence in the project. Besides the support through funds the tremendous belief and commitment shown towards the film is truly enabling and a real boost”.
– Chandrasekhar Reddy