28 October, 2020

Salt In The Wounds

Gandhi's historic Dandi march has bypassed them. Gujarat's salt workers are caught up in a maze of abysmal living conditions, ignorance and neglect.

Salt In The Wounds

FOR more than 40,000 inland salt workers of the Little Rann of Kutch, living on the edge is a way of life. Here the sounds of Pakistan cackle with clarity over the rundown transistors; here the arid Rann inches them out when the monsoon pushes the relentless sea in; here their vision of freedom began with a handful of salt—and ended with it.

Here, among the many things unchanged in the wastelands of Surendranagar, Mehsana, Banaskantha, Rajkot and Kutch, are the lyrics of an old folk song. A bereft bride mourns: "O mother, why did you give me in marriage to an 'agario agnani' (ignorant salt worker). He digs a well and whiles away his time. He does not oil his hair and breaks the comb everyday...." The salt worker seems unmoved. In this vast expanse, wells are still being dug. Combs are still being broken by salt-infested hair. The salt worker hasn't been able to rise above his ignorance. From October to May, the agaria family members take turns at "whiling time"—pumping out brine, charting channels to let flow the...



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