'Me and my two sons earned Tk 3,00,000 by selling coals in last six months'
The coal hidden beneath the cold waves of the Jadukata River flowing through Tahirpur upazila in Sunamganj lures thousands of people, mostly women and children, with prospects of making a quick buck.
The women come from diverse backgrounds – some are widows, some divorced or from extremely poor families – but they have one thing in common, they are fighting to put food on the table.
Jannat Ara, a coal labourer of Sarupganj village in Bishwambarpur upazila, said: “Me and my two sons earned Tk 3,00,000 by selling coals in last six months.”
With the money, she married off her two sons, built tin-shed houses for them and brought cattle and goats, making her life a little easier, she said.
The gift of nature has changed the fate of hundreds of families like Jannat.
But an often overlooked sight is the presence of a huge number of children, many of them school students. Some of them help their parents to collect coal while many others are forced to quit studies to scour the river.
These children know that life is hard and one must fight persistently to survive.
All the working children bear signs of toil and indigence on their faces but seem happy. Coal mixed with sand are separated by sieving and sold to the local wholesalers. Each sack rakes in between Tk 400 and Tk 500.
Jadukata River, flowing from the bordering hills of Meghalaya, brings large volumes of coal mixed with sand with its currents in the monsoon. The villagers begin their work when the water level drops during the dry season.
Each female worker earns an estimated Tk 40,000 to Tk 50,000 annually by working for five to six months. They spend the amount on their children’s education and other family needs.
Tahirpur Upazila Parishad Chairman Karuna Sindhu Chowdhury said collecting coal from Jadukata River is a toiling job but locals prefer doing it as there is a scarcity of jobs.
A large number of women and children from Tahirpur and Bishwamvarpur upazilas are involved in this trade. It is not only pulling people out of poverty but also helping to bear expenses of studies and other needs.
Badaghat Union Chairman Aptab Uddin said Tahirpur upazila and its adjacent upazilas are blessed by nature.
“In the past, most of the workers in our area had to starve, but selling coal has helped them overcome extreme poverty,” he said.