Ali MC | Nong shain maw: stonebreakers of the east Khasi highlands
26 November 2019 to 6 February 2020
These photographs were taken in 2016, high in the mountains of northeast India, in the state of Meghalaya where elderly women and children would break and sort rocks by hand using picks, hammers and woven baskets. Stone chips would fly into the faces of the workers, who wore no safety equipment apart from plastic coverings to protect them from the persistent rain in one of the wettest places on earth. These were the 'nong shain maw', a Khasi indigenous word literally meaning 'the people who break the rock'. For this dangerous and backbreaking work the 'nong shain maw' were paid around two dollars a day, and worked 12 hours a day, six days a week.
The Khasi are an indigenous people who live in the mountains of Meghalaya, a remote state in northeast India. The region is replete with quarries from which limestone rock would be hewn and broken up for shipment to Bangladesh. The men who worked at the quarry were called 'nong ti maw', meaning 'the people who dig the rock'. This too was dangerous work, with two men being buried alive in landslides while working at the quarries in 2017.
Once the large chunks of rock had been extracted, they were delivered to the 'nong shain maw' to be broken by hammers into various sizes. The rock would then be sold to buyers in Bangladesh, who used it to build roads and to make cement.
Since these photographs were taken, the limestone quarries have been closed down by the government. While this may at first seem like some kind of relief for the 'nong shain maw' and 'nong ti maw', it has left the local Khasi people without jobs or income in a region that is largely ignored by the Indian authorities.
All images shot on medium format film.
MGA has launched a new exhibition space, the Atrium Gallery, to provide emerging artists with an opportunity to showcase their practice to MGA’s audiences. The Atrium Gallery is situated between MGA and the Wheelers Hill Library and is open Monday to Friday from 10.00am to 8.30pm, Saturdays from 9.00am to 5.00pm and Sundays from 12 noon to 5.00pm.