The Agariyas are people living in absolute poverty deprivation and isolation, in a land of near nothingness, where the birds don’t fly and grass doesn’t grow, where the water doesn’t flow and salinity turns the bones into rock….
Situated in the Desert, the Rann of Kutch in North West India, the children of the salt pan workers migrate annually to the unforgiving land to produce table salt in similarly unforgiving circumstances. Since they have no formal schools to attend, they miss out on schooling for eight months a year. Families own small pans from which they harvest salt.
The conditions in which the Agariyas are forced to work are far from comfortable. They work in the relentless heat; most of them are not given the protective footwear needed to protect their bodies from absorbing too much salt. The condition is so serious that upon cremation, while the rest of the body burns up naturally, the feet stay undestroyed due to the high levels of salt in the body. Apart from this, is the situation of a low pay and high debts.
The salt pan workers work eight to ten hours a day. They have to clean out the salt pans, fill them with sea water or the natural underground saline water, scrape away the salt and finally collect the white salt crystals for transportation elsewhere. They earn roughly around seven paise per kilo of salt. And they make roughly about three thousand rupees a year.
Besides eye and skin problems, these people, , suffer from malaria, fever and malnutrition as basic health amenities are not in place here. The workers have no access to sanitation, potable water and medical facilities. Even if they get a permanent structure as shelter, it is small and badly ventilated.
Children from such families also miss out on school life as they are in the salt pan from September to May and can go back to their villages only in the monsoon months when there is no work.
Presently, there are more than 30,000 salt farmers and workers in the Rann of Kutch, living out their daily lives in a harsh and isolated way.