A Place Called Ksan

By Janet Hujon

 

In December 2018 fifteen miners drowned in the flooded rat hole mines of Ksan in the Jaiñtia Hills. This was local, national and international news.  Had this tragedy not occurred I would never have known that such a place even existed.I was however familiar with the word Ksan and decided to remind myself of its meaning.

Ksan – to justify, legalise, win (Reverend E Bars, Khasi-English Dictionary). So, superficially at least, a somewhat positive connotation. But something nagged and made me turn to Dr. Iarington Kharkongor’s Khasi Encyclopaedic Dictionary, Ka Dienshonhi, which said: ksan, n. kaba said ban pynksan ia la kañia; kaba said ban pyllait na ka jingshah kynnoh pop (vindication)

ksan, v.jop ha ka jingialeh thong ne kano-kano ka jingialeh (to win)

 

ksanv. ‘to win’, tallies with Reverend Bars’ explanation. Although within the context of the horrific events at the coal mine, one is prompted to ask who actually did the struggling and who won in the end? Ksan as a noun then provides more food for thought because the English equivalents – ‘vindication’, justify’ or ‘legalise’ –do hint at the possibility of a darker interpretation and we find that in Dr Kharkongor’s definition.  Ksan (as a noun) refers to evidence used to support an argument in order to avoid blame.  Reading that explanation suddenly made me realise the poignant irony of the tragedy at Ksan, a word.  Here is a place that did not set out to do so, but now unwittingly embodies the duplicitous nature of government policies.

Isn’t it convenient that the ostensible protection of indigenous rights over land use somehow entails and justifies a blatant denial of the ongoing destruction of our hills, our forests and our rivers to further line the pockets of a few who smugly tell themselves they are fighting for our rights?  Really?  What about our fundamental human right to clean air and fresh water? Our children’s right to inherit a land revered and protected by our forebears? Don’t all these basic rights come under the protective umbrella of indigenous rights? And what about the miners’ right to a safe working environment?  But then I forget, miners are migrants and not members of the jaitbynriew.  Although as Torist Mark points out it is ironically thanks to the petition launched by the All Dimasa Students Union and the Dima Hasao District Committee (non-jaitbynriew),that the NGT imposed a ban on coal mining. For a while and to a certain extent at least our state was brought back from the brink. Yet the selfish re-interpretation of traditional laws can only contribute further to the ongoing depletion of Meghalaya’s natural beauty and wealth.

It would be interesting to know how this coal mining area earned its name.  What was Ksan before it became the source of funds to bolster the dreams and lifestyles of get-rich-quick barons pocketing profits without getting their hands dirty or losing their lives?

In The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell prompts us to tussle with an uncomfortable truth.  Writing about coal miners in Yorkshire and Lancashire he observes that the work of the coal miner is so ‘remote’ from our every day experience that “…we are capable of forgetting it as we forget the blood in our veins.  In a way it is even humiliating to watch coal miners working. It raises in you a momentary doubt about your own status as an ‘intellectual’ and a superior person generally… For it is brought home to you, at least while you are watching, that it is only because miners sweat their guts out that superior persons can remain superior…all of us really owe the comparative decency of our lives to poor drudges underground, blackened to the eyes, with their throats full of coal dust”… (emphasis mine) The Road to Wigan Pierwas published in 1937.  We have travelled far in time but have we come far enough?

For

 

The Coal Miners  Of  Ksan

And darkness was on the face of the deep/but the Spirit of God no longer moves/ upon the face of the waters/ for we are the abandoned/who served lesser gods/

we are the faceless nameless expendables/whose worth was measured/ by the weight of coal/ we carried in baskets/ to the top of the shaft

We were the first explorers/in this underworld/ stigmata-embossed/ when the rough rock/ on which we lay /branded its imprint/ on our soft flesh/for us there are no rich pickings/just a long wait/ for deliverance/ for life to get better/

knowing what we have always known/ that forever we are suspended/

between light and darkness/ life and death

But some day/ from the bowels of the earth/ will come a reckoning/ when the tired earth/ shafted and hollowed/ shakes with fury/ and exacts her revenge/ and only then will you begin to know/ the terrifying comfort of that abiding truth….

in death we are all born equal

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