Salt of the Earth

Saltpan workers of the Little Rann of Kutch, Gujurat, India

For months of the year during the wet season the Little Rann of Kutch in Gujurat is submerged under a few feet of salt water and is fished for shrimp by the local villagers. The other half the year temperatures in the desert reach well over 40 degrees, the water dries up and salt water from underground deposits is pumped into saltpans on the desert floor where it is harvested.

Ill Equipped workers (Agariyas) come from surrounding areas or move to the the Little Rann as labourers for the season, working in one of the harshest environments imaginable. A few have gumboots but most were were working in poor footwear, some in flip flops, some just barefoot with cracks and cuts on their feet. It's hot, heavy, hard work. But like we've found all over india, spirits were high when we visited, they were exited to meet us and they had a good laugh watching us trying their back breaking work.

Most of the Agariyas have little or no education and come from the impoverished Koli and Chuvaliya Koli tribes. Salt workers die young, they have a low life expectancy of 50-60. There is a saying in the Rann "if you're a saltpan worker, you have three ways to die: first gangrene, second TB or third blindness." Babies and young children are brought to the pans because the workers don't have a choice, some of the children as young as 10 do a full days work.

The salt is locally known as Badagara, simply meaning Bada (big) Agara (pan). This inland salt in large-grain crystal is different from the marine salt produced in the coastal regions. Figures are sketchy buy it's though the Little Rann itself produces over 30% of India's salt and the state of Gujarat as a whole amounts to around 70%.
© all images copyright gavin burnett

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