High in the mountains, covered in mist and forest, elderly women and small children break rocks by hand along the side of the road.
Stone chips fly into the faces of the workers, who wear no safety equipment apart from plastic coverings to protect them from the persistent rain in one of the wettest places on earth.
These are the ‘nong shain maw’, a Khasi Indigenous word meaning ‘the people who break the rock’.
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 is hewn and broken up for shipment to Bangladesh.
The men who work at the quarry are called ‘nong ti maw’, meaning ‘the people who dig the rock’.
This too is dangerous work, with two men being buried alive in landslides while working at the quarries in 2017.
Once the large chunks of rock have been extracted, they are delivered to the ‘nong shain maw’ to be broken by hammers into various sizes. The rock is then sold to buyers in Bangladesh, who use it to build roads and to make cement.
For this dangerous and back-breaking work the nong shain maw are paid around $2 a day, and work 12 hours a day, six days a week.
According to the United Nations, there are an estimated 370 million Indigenous peoples in the world, living across 90 countries. Although making up less than five per cent of the world’s population, Indigenous peoples account for 15 per cent of the poorest.
The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) states that India has a population of around 104 million Indigenous peoples making up 8.6 per cent of the national population.
There are 705 nationally recognised ethnic groups, although IWGIA states there are many more.
The Khasi became part of India during British colonisation, and remained part of the country after independence in 1948.
A matrilineal society, the Khasi remain ethnically, linguistically and culturally distinct from mainstream India and, like many of the Indigenous peoples in Northeast India, harbour separatist ambitions.
A lack of government attention to the northeast, as well as ongoing separatist tensions in the area, means that Indigenous people such as the Khasi remain marginalised and are forced into back-breaking work like stone breaking to survive.
Yet, since these photos were taken, the limestone quarries have been closed down by the State Government. While this may 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.
With little alternative investment, the area is destined to slip further into poverty.
In fact, some reports state that the closure of the limestone quarries – which follows a similar closure of coal mines in 2014 – actually infringes on the traditional land rights of the Khasi, which are protected in the Indian constitution.
Yet regardless of whether the quarries will re-open in the future, it is clear that the Khasi face an ongoing struggle.
Like many Indigenous peoples worldwide, they are faced not only with the day-to-day reality of grinding poverty, but the fight to assert their independence and self-determination.
All photographs shot on medium-format film by Ali MC.