Written by: Arpita Macwan, Officer – Programmes, West Zone
Edited by: Communications Team
Ahmedabad, Gujarat: Thousands of people living on the edge of the Rann and in south Gujarat, work under extreme heat to produce salt, it is their sole livelihood source. These are the Agariyas, the salt pan workers and producers. Heat, extreme physical labour and isolated life away from human habitats and minimal social interactions mark the lives of these agariyas who are struggling to prove their rights to produce salt in this land. The brine (salty water with concentration up to 17o to 23o) is available at the depth of 80 to 120 ft, which upon evaporation forms crystal salt known as “Vadagaru salt”. It is mainly the Chunvaliya Koli, Ahir and Miyana community which is involved in salt production. These communities are traditionally known to have the skills of salt production and are known as ‘Agariyas’. After the monsoon, the Agariyas migrate to these salt pan areas and stay there in extremely poor living conditions with almost no facility for 8 months up to mid-summer. Just before the onset of monsoon, they sell their entire produce to traders and return back to their native villages. Education is very low amongst them and even because of their seasonal migration,children are unable to continue their education. They migrate with families to salt pans for producing salt which is highly labour intensive process and even the children of the family are involved in this.
With a view to removing this kind of exploitation and poor market linkages, IGSSS is working with a two pronged strategy of working with the women of the Agariya community on one hand and with the primary consumers in the urban areas of Ahmedabad on the other. The project initiated by IGSSS is a pilot started in December 2014 along with VIKAS. The objective of this project was to initially form women SHGs and building the capacities of these women on the procurement and packaging of kitchen salt. Simultaneously, efforts have been made to create awareness about plight of these Agariyas amongst the urban population of Ahmedabad to market the salt produced by these women SHGs. Awareness camps have been organized with the women of these SHGs on not just on the salt making process but also on the purpose of this projects, which aims at giving these women an opportunity to come out of the harsh working situations of a salt pan worker through an alternative livelihood option.
Presently, the women SHGs are working autonomously, procuring and packing salt. A number of meetings have also been organized in the urban areas with the consumers to make them aware of the plight of the salt pan workers in the Rann of Kutch area. The consumers were also given sample of the salt made by the SHGs to create a market for SABRAS, the brand of salt being made by the SHG members. It is through this project that the salt pan workers have themselves started production of salt too with the support from IGSSS, which they feel will go a long way in their upliftment.