The Light That Peeps in Through the Holes: Two Poems on Rat-Hole Miners

The dangerous technique of rat-hole mining, outlawed in 2014, proved essential in the rescue of 41 workers who were trapped under a collapsed tunnel in Uttarakhand’s Silkyara in November, 2023. The digging was done by hand by ‘rat-hole’ miners.

Rat-Hole Miners


They are rats

burrowing deep

to dig out life.

The India that pays bills

Lives in the holes.

Holes of various colours and shapes

Of slums

Of shanties

Of manholes of poisonous gases

Of roadside cement hume pipes.


And the India that enjoy the meals

Live in big houses.


But lights always peep in through the holes.


What Are Your Names?


What are your names?


Feroz, Munna Quereshi, Rashid, Irshad, Naseem,

Monu, Naseer, Ankur, Jatin, Saurabh, Wakeel Hassan, Devender.


And what are your titles?


We are miners, sir.


But what are your titles?


We don’t have any

We never had any

We are miners or labourers or farmers or mill workers

or the thousands who die unnamed

cleaning the nullahs and the sewages

We are bound by our sweat, oppression and precarity

This is our title in India, sir.

Moumita Alam is a poet from West Bengal. Her poetry collection, The Musings of the Dark, was published in 2020.