• Awanish Kumar

Salt farmers' problems in Rann of Kutchh

Updated: Jun 4, 2019

In Rann of Kutchh we visited Khhara Goda village. This village lies in Patdi subdivision in Surendra Nagar District. We reached there in noon on 1 June 2019 at temple (acts as community centre in Indian village) of Khhara Goda village. There we interacted with more than 30 -40 villagers who are producing salt in Rann of Kutchh. These farmers are called pataliya or Agariya. Pataliya comes from a village Patadi near sringeswar village in surendra nagar district from where their forefathers first came. They further told that they still visit their native village for ceremonial function and perform offering in temple of Chamunda Goddess i.e. marriage or during birth ritual of their young one. Agariya derived from Agar means salt in Gujrati. As this community produce salt and their whole life is depends around salt in Rann of Kutchh, people called them Agaria.

Observation: On interaction, they told us about their harsh conditions and challenges in Rann of kutchh during salt production. Major problems we seen are toxic gases in tube well, unavailability of drinking water and poor housing conditions. They all depend on manual activity in this fast moving world. Still they are drilling their bore well by manual physical labour for 3 to 4 days and they told us that we don’t have money to go beyond 52 feet by manual means. Also they don’t have any record of right of land where they produce salt. They do this seasonal business for about eight to nine month which starts after paying homage to god during Navratri in October. They spend money every year on temporary housing which they construct with the help of bamboo poles and gunny bags. We visited this temporary housing and found that they have special sense of climatic conditions and build it with sustainable materials present there. They told that around 2500 families of Agariya labourer were residing in a stretch of around 80 km in length and 60 km in height. Also they were very emotionally charged and saying that our 10 generations have passed in Rann of Kutchh doing same business but we don’t have any piece of land or records of possession in our name. We are poor and illiterate people and our problems are in darkness and in unwritten form. We don’t have any type of subsidy on kerosene and other agribusiness related things what other similar type of people get in other part of the country like fish farming communities get subsidy on kerosene and insurance support. They also said that though india got freedom and Gandhi fought against British regime by symbolising the salt as weapon to mass mobilise Indians but we Agariya who are soul producer of salt in this country from centuries are still living in darkness and neglect and devoid of basic minimum which we can aspect form the state of a democratic nation.

We found the presence of dung layer at their mud choolha (stoves) and enquired about it. They told us this dung belongs to ghudkhar (wild ass) and its adhesiveness with mud and long lasting nature, they use it and collect it by going on cycle for a distance of 9 km deep in Bawariya Jhadi (Acacia forest) and collect this dung from there. We also spotted herd of Wild Ass (Equus hemionus khur) and Neel Gai (Boselaphus tragocamelus) resting below Acacia trees. They told us that sometimes forest official seize their cycle and don’t allow them to collect this dung. We have-not found any material in and around their housing which affects the natural flora or fauna of Kutchh at any means. We also found that they are very sympathetic about environment and put water on earth pot for birds. Also they put a pipe in diagonally opposed manner on water containing earthen pot so that birds do not face problem due to edge and reach the water with ease. Also they said that chakli (Sparrow Scientific name: Passer domesticus) also comes in their hut and socializes with them. During lunch when they see a sparrow and by whispering sound of chukk chuukk this sparrow comes to their vicinity and they give them food and sparrow utilises their hut bamboo and gunny bags as shelter as utilises this material for nest formation and lay their eggs for perpetuation of their species in such a scorching heat. Also we have found eggs of pigeon in their bore wells and pigeon.

Seeing such difficult terrain and presence of high temperature (45 -50°C) it appears that their hut bore well as well as their belonging and sustainable life style acts as a guardian/protector as well as source of shelter, water and food for birds and dogs. (Also they dig bore well every year on different sites depending on presence of water or aquifers there. These bore well are have no scaffold due to which there is possibility of land slide and death due to trapping inside mud in well during work. Next hurdle is toxic gases formation in wells

We inquired about this condition from about 30 -40 people. We tried to understand this condition in a systematic manner. As a firsthand knowledge bearer of conditions; we inquire about digging of bore well process, diameter of bore pipe, and day to day problems they face during salt preparation and also how they over come such obstacles during difficulties. They told us that during digging of well, a layer of seepla (sheep layer) comes at proper stratum. Bore well that are present at that type of land are more prone to gas formation. This shows that they understand the layer and patterning of earth crust and understand the role of gas formation and porosity present in different layers of earth its geological nature and they understand in a very crude way. Also gas forms due to decomposition of organic waste and at petrochemical sites. Sheep contains organic matter which might provide such condition for gas formation. This also shows their keen understanding and observation skills. Also they showed us “sharouli’ a glass like substance they found during digging of wells.

They also told that it is also found in sea and it is very sharp and sometimes it pierce and cause major injury in foot and body. Then when we said it is of no use and its very bad then an old person instantly replied “nothing in nature is useless , every substance is valuable and useful only we don't know its value and it is due to our ignorance.” He told the usefulness of this glassy substance “sharouli” and its effect on female body during menstrual cycle. He told that when we heat this glassy substance under heat it becomes amorphous and powdery in nature. When this powder is dissolved in water and left overnight in earthen pot followed by its filtration at morning. This filtered water is taken by ladies during menstrual pain and it relive suffering and pain of ladies during periods. This showed that they understand the values of minerals and its effects on body in a crude form. Also we understand that due to absence of leafy vegetables in Rann of kutchh majority of ladies are anaemic and look underweight. It might be presence of different types of ions in this substance which might be beneficial for their body and may helps in facilitation of enzymatic biochemical reactions in the body. We observed different types of wells of Agariya farmer in Rann of Kutchh. We found that due to soil and salty nature land is very fragile. Also bore well don’t have any scaffolds in wall. Also exposed wall soil interact with air and moisture leads to fragile boundary and edge of well. Sometimes it may be the cause of land fall which leads to trapping of individual inside well. That has been reported in past as told by fellow villagers. Also they dig various holes at wall of well to create a facility (a stair type of condition) for entering inside the well for repair purposes.

Salt Production pipeline: They showed us the field where the harvest the salt in field. They told us that the cold water which comes to earth is spread in field using channel to systematically raise its temperature. Calcium compound were found up to 2 to 9°C followed by NaCl up to 9- 28 °C and leftover is above 29 °C is rich in form of magnesium and bromine. This leftover is freely taken by contractor and company person in a free manner without any cost as they don’t have accessible machinery and technology to form magnesium and bromine and harness this for their upliftment. We also visited the nearby magnesium factory running in their vicinity and seen the plant of its formation. In this plant they serially boils this leftover in a series of tanks and sequentially increase its temperature to very high degree.This hot extract is supplied to roller like moving instrument. This roller is slowly moving and supplied with a cold water stream and when this hot water touches the roller it sticks to the roller in crystal form. When roller comes again with these crystals in hot interface it leaves the roller and falls to another dried chamber and presence of sharp edge cutter break it into small crystal that is collected in bags in automated fashion.

Village door to door interaction: We also visited the whole village and tried to understand the situation of people in a door to door outreach. We have seen that Agaria people are living in periphery of village and devoid of basic facilities of water. They told us that we don’t have fresh water supply from government till Deepawali festival.

Till that we procure it by nearby private reverse ozonised water supplier. When water supply resumes after Deepawali festival, each family got 1500 liters to 2000 liter. We have to use this water for 15-20 days . We also observed the tank conditions in their field where they stored the supplied water. In field there was no toilet facilities and open defecation is prevalent. It is quite difficult for ladies. Also we talked to people other than Agariyas and they also showed their concern about problems faced by Agariyas in Rann of Kutchh. They told that there is very scorching heat in Rann of Kutchh (45-50°C) in summer and dehydration due to absence of especial shoes and bodily apparatus makes the Agariya people very vulnerable. Majority of people got skin infections and stone problems due to consumption of hard salty water. We also asked about their diet and nutritional habits and we found that they were devoid of green leafy vegetables.

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