A dance of hope by children who scavenge coal

Before sunset, in the 110-square-mile mining region of Jharia in eastern India, an ensemble of girls dances near an opencast coal mine. Come sunrise, they'll be back at the mines for another reason: survival.

"We're afraid, but we're bound to go with the risks," says 16-year-old Anjali, who scavenges from her local mine — typically between 4 a.m. and 10 a.m. — for a few dollars worth of coal. (NPR is only using the girls' first names because this kind of coal collecting is against the law.) An estimated 250 people in her rural village, including 65 children, fill their baskets at the pits, then sell the rocks in local markets or keep them for free household fuel.

Poverty abounds across the coal-rich state of Jharkhand, home to Jharia and some of India's largest coal reserves. The people of Jharkhand rely on the coal industry for jobs, pensions, electricity, fuel and more, with at least a few million of the state's 40 million residents believed to be informal or illegal coal workers. Jharia is essentially one large coalfield dotted with vulnerable villages. There, Anjali and other poor residents participate in the mining economy to meet their basic needs.