It was one of those days when you expected the sun to be at is gleaming best, but the gods thought otherwise. Few cups of coffee and some 50 odd kilometres later, there we were, the milestone read ‘Zero”’, veil of pristine white sand below our feet and an endless sky waiting to welcome us on a chilly breezy morning. Life couldn’t be any better. But we had bigger issues at hands ,and chose to ignore the scenic beauty. Surrounded by Arabian Sea, Kutch marks as the last Indian territory towards west with numerous crafts, traditions and cultures brimming to the point of brilliance.On the economic front Kutch has the largest salt desert in the world, which makes the region a major player in the world market and in India ,contributing 76% of the total production.
We were accompanied by Ambubhai, a photo journalist, who had an extensive knowledge about the pan farmers, as he belonged to the agaria community.Twenty kilometres into the plains we came across our first pan, the initial understanding of the place was, that the land had a marshy feel, owing to the sea levels and parched terrain.Unfortunately we couldn't meet the farmers as the harvesting season had just concluded.After ambubhai started explaining the process and the lifestyle of the Agaria’s, we could only imagine the hardships they faced day to day to make a livelihood.Their working period on the farms lasts upto 8 months, begining in early October when the rains have concluded.They reach their respective farms using a tractor pulley carrying with them all the materials like bamboo, wood, dry grass, sacs, ropes, plastics for the rains, canvas, water, diesel, pumps from their respective villages close by.Once onto field, they take about to 3-5days to create their shelters, their homes for the next few months.On probing further the team understood that one of the problems they encountered was the damp land and the insects, which at times forced them to leave their work, hindering the process.Having established the shelter ,their families make their way to the shelters from the neighbouring places .Agaria’s being a working class community, they move in large groups with number of people in a family dwindling from 8-11.
After the region has dried up, the work begins at full stretch, which is extracting the brine from the ground, evaporating and crystallising to form salts.The men folk are on the fields for the majority of the time, where as the women and the children stay back in the tent. Accumilating the data we headed back to the village where we interacted with the salt farmers ,and conducted a team share on the problems encountered by the agariya’s.