Thursday, April 19, 2012

Not just salt!

Just 25 km from the Indo-Pak border lies the tiny village of Boru in Banaskantha, Gujarat. From November till May, the village bears a deserted look. Most of its inhabitants — well, at least all the able-bodied men and women — make a trip everyday to the Rann or the salt desert 8 km from away. They toil from dawn till dusk at one of the hundreds of salt pans in the 20 square km area to produce what it's worth in salt. The brackish groundwater is pumped out from a depth of 50 feet (for fresh water, you have to dig 1,500 feet). It is collected into large troughs. For six months, the salt workers 'comb' the water. Slowly, as the water evaporates, the salt crystallizes. The constant mixing allows for large crystal formation. A worker tells me that it makes the salt taste better. In the middle of April, once the two-inch large crystal agglomerates are formed, they are collected and loaded onto trucks that take it to the factories in Ahmedabad (it's a six-hour drive) for further processing. The workers pick the salt with their bare hands. The aluminium and iron baskets they carry on their heads are corroded. The salt seeps through the metal containers and then through the pores of their skins. Once in a while a worker dies of a heatstroke. Yet, these men and women carry on. Day after day, without a break for holidays or festivals, for a meagre salary of Rs 100 a day (children get Rs 20-30 a day). They are illiterate and what they earn here is certainly more than what they could get the surrounding open scrub to produce. A single trough produces 100 tons of salt. Each salt pan has about 12 troughs. The entire area of 20 sq km, holds 100 such salt pans where 2,000 workers from 10 neighbouring villages work. Do the math and you'll find out how much the salt is worth! 

Mixing the water to get larger crystals of salt

Women from the village of Joloya

The salt is loaded into trucks which then leave for the factories in Ahmedabad

The only shelter you'll find

The women

Everybody works

Salt workers who love the camera

Pumping out the brackish groundwater into troughs

What I loved about these people is the pride with which they carry themselves, unlike migrant workers elsewhere. With barely anything but a haystack and their clothes to shelter themselves from the wind, the sun and the sand, they fear little. Their dhotis are spotless white, their silver bracelets shine. Women and men work side by side but keep a cautious distance from each other. They sit and eat in separate groups. The Rabari and Thakore social codes of conduct are strict. Yet, the parda (veil) does little to prevent the women from voicing their opinions. And that too in authoritative guttural tones! I went there to tell them why their children need schooling. Instead, I learnt how sometimes even nature can be triumphed over by the human spirit.

1 comment:

Ramesh Narendrarai Desai said...

Thanks for not shedding tears for these self-reliant and happy people irrespective of the troubles that they go through with a smiling face.