The Bihar Boys, Asphalt slaves

In full economic boom, India needs to rebuild and develop its road system throughout the country, thus ensuring its thriving commercial and tourist trade. And, furthermore, to facilitate the military access to the country's "sensitive" borders. Naturally, given India's geography, a lot of its roads are located in highly mountainous zones on the indian Himalaya - with cols sometimes higher than 5000m of altitude.

After rude winter conditions, these roads are often demolished. Thus, rebuilding crews are essential in order to open-up the high cols to the circulation. So, every year, especially during the summer time, road workers are paid to rebuild and tar-up these altitude roads, essential to communication and trade.
 

These workers, called « Bihar Boys », unqualified for the large majority of them, come from the indian province of Bihar, one of the poorest and most populated in India, far from the rich cities of Varanasi and Calcutta. Most of these teenagers were street kids of Patna, Bihar's capital.

They now try to flee their province's misery and accept any jobs, even the worst and most difficult ones. Thus, they are perfect candidates for the hard and badly-paid jobs that awaits for them up North. Naturally, as they grew up in a warm and humid region of the country, none of them can really imagine the dry and cold weather in the high mountains on which they will have to live and work.

Working generally on 6 months contracts in these himalayan areas, the Bihar Boys are paid a salary of 50 rupees per day (1 euro). And, given the fact that they don't have any means to spend their money during their working months, they often feel like if they were getting richer.

However, the living conditions of these young men are very difficult, harsh. Isolated in the mountains, they live together in very simple and uncomfortable linen tents alongside the road. Their re-supplying, made by trucks, is only done twice a week, their food is therefore solely based on rice and stays very basic. They have one rest day per week, which is too often used for laundry and to sleep.

 

The Bihar Boys's working conditions are not better. In general, their day starts upon sunrise and, after a meal, they reach the road they yet have to rebuild and tar-up. The only heat they then feel, just before the sun's warm rays, is the one coming from the burning tar barrels that stretch out the work zone.

 
The Bihar Boys are dressed in old ragged clothes, and few of them wear coats - even though they aren't protecting from the cold and the wind that strive in these areas. Which is not the case of their colleagues, working in the cities, who have proper uniforms and clothing.
 

Not to mention that most of the Bihar Boys working on these high-altitude roads don't have any protection against the powerful sunrays. And even less protection against dangerous tar smoke and gasoline vapors they inhale all day long - from flaming barrels and overheated metal basins where sand, rocks and tar are mixed together to get the roads's asphalt.

 

Apart from a few hoods and home-made masks, they only got a couple of gloves - and useless plastic rain boots. And, with the sun, the dust, the thick smoke and the tar on their hands and clothes, it's easy to imagine what their skin and lungs look like.

Some of them even look like birds caught in oil spills…

Tanguy&Violette © 2005-2007