MPH Student Documents the Lives of Stone Breakers in India in New Film

by Shubharanjan Jena

Students of Public Health: Voices & Profiles focuses on research projects and other contributions students are making to advance public health.

MPH Student Documentary Filmmaker

Shubharanjan Jena

Student Voices — Being born in the tribal district of Nabarangpur in India, I saw the poverty, distress, health issues, and illiteracy among tribal women and their children. Nabarangpur is located in the southwestern part of Odisha state, with a population of  1.22 million. More than ten types of tribes live here, accounting for half of the population, and depend upon cultivation and forest products for their livelihood. People practice cultivation only for one season, the Kharif season. When I arrived at the KIIT School of Public Health to pursue a master’s degree in public health, I came to know in my first semester about the occupational health-related hazards and safety issues for those workers in detail. Soon after, the director of our institute, Dr. Sudhir Kumar Satpathy, informed me of a contest for occupational health safety videos, which is when I decided to do a documentary film called Stone Boulders on occupational health safety in my district Nabarangpur.

Since childhood, I have seen firsthand the health-related issues workers here face. Each morning after finishing up their daily chores at home, the women of the village walk to nearby stone quarries, often accompanied by their young ones, where rocks mined from the quarry await them to be broken down into gravel by hand. All day, the women manually break stones with handheld hammers, their children often acting as “little helpers.”

I am very grateful for the help of my teacher, Himanshu Pradhan, and my friend, Rahul Kheti, as well as all of my teachers and friends at the KIIT School of Public Health. Producing Stone Boulders was my first experience in documentary film-making. I learned a lot about time management, communication, and maintaining discipline during my work. For example, I learned how to manage a team and adjust for things like weather, etc. 

As I documented the workers’ daily tasks, I came to know there is a need to adopt various safety measures to address the risk and vulnerabilities of the personnel involved in manual stone-breaking activities. Some of the safety measures necessary include the use of personal protective equipment (clothing, gloves, respirator or mask, crash-helmet, safety goggles, safety shoes with non-skid soles, etc). Also, whenever possible, manual lifting of heavy loads should be avoided and accomplished by lifting-aids or equipment. Appropriate ear-protection equipment such as earplugs should be used. Chemicals and other irritating and/or allergenic substances should be avoided. Good hand-washing at the end of the work shift and the use of gloves, masks, and other gear to protect the respiratory system, eyes, hands, and skin are necessary. Immediate medical attention should be given in case of any injury, insect bites, parasitic infection, and skin rash or allergy. To address ergonomic and psycho-social factors the worker must be instructed in the use of correct techniques for moving and lifting heavy loads and in the use of mechanical lifting ids. Wherever necessary, assistance from occupational ergonomists and psychologists should be sought out. Yet, sadly, few of these measures are currently taken to protect these workers, which is why I hope my film will help highlight these problems and improve the lives of these mothers, children, and others working in the quarries.

My advice to other students interested in documentary film-making is to follow their passions, to find projects they really want to do. A movie is part of mass media communication, and in public health, mass media plays an important role because it can bring attention to public health problems to a larger audience. I would also suggest to choose one major health issue in their society to focus on so people can easily understand. If you can make others aware of a health safety issue, it can easily spread so that more and more people become aware.

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Public health student Shubharanjan Jena documents the lives of vulnerable quarry workers that includes women and children who manually break stones with handheld hammers in a new documentary called Stone Boulders 

Shubharanjan Jena is a second year MPH student at the KIIT School of Public Health in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, India. He completed a bachelor degree in pharmacy from Siksha ‘O’ Anusandhan University. He is interested in helping people by creating awareness of public health problems and improving public health implementation and health promotion.

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