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About the Author

Jana Cavojska
photojournalist and writing reporter (Bratislava, Slovakia)

Lawyer by education, photojournalist and writing reporter now. Working for the best sold Slovak weekly magazine Plus7dni and occasionaly also for another weekly and monthly magazines in Slovakia (including streetpaper Nota bene distributed by homeless people). Member of board of trustees of Slovak non - profit organisation Človek v ohrození - People in Peril Association providing developing and humanitarian aid in 25 countries all over the world. Usually I report about people and their stories in different parts of the world. In my blog I would like to speak about the virtue of the "common" people in difficult life situations and about developing help which is really help and not just giving. You can see my photos on my website www.yanica.sk or in my facebook profile.

Post

Salt People

Published 20th July 2010 - 9 comments - 5001 views -

Their shoeless feet are eaten by salt. Salt gets also into lungs and cause unceasing cough. Dermal diseases, tuberculosis, blindness is an anamnesis of people working in large salt lake. According to an old myth goddess Shakambhari Devi converted a forest to a place full of precious metals. But people were scared of conflicts about wealthiness. Since then they saw the gift as a curse. They asked the goddess to take back her gift. And Shakambhari Devi changed precious metals to – salt.

I walk in spacious white wold. It´s connected with pale sky in the horizont. Salt lake Sambhar in state Rajasthan has 230 square kilometres in rainy season. It is the biggest salt lake in India. Colours of its waters are incredible: grey, various shades of red, brown. It´s work of the odd alga and primeval bacteria living in this ecosystem. Sambhar lake is as winterplace of ten-thousands of flamingos protected by Ramsar Convention. And people are trading salt from the lake for thousand years. Means didn´t change too much.

 Lake is divided by five kilometres long dam. There is a water in western part. In eastern part there are evaporation tanks, canals and salt bins. During colonial times there was built a small railway for bringing salt to town Sambhar Lake. This old simple railway is still here. Old dried-up putlogs and rusty rails lead into places where workers are drudging. Train brings empty trolleys to them and full trolleys carries to Sambhar.

Except of railway is salt mining just hard craft work. Workers put salty water into basins until they get certain concentracion of salt. Then they open the dams and let water to flow away. Or they dig source of salt – brine and let water to steam off.

Sun is drying the water and there remains a white salt film in basins. Workers rake and collect it, remove it and put to bulks, dry and rain down on trolleys of the train. Whole proceeding lasts for three – four months.

It is said that if member of Agari tribe dies and his body is burned in funeral pile, salt on his feet outlasts. Agaris are traditional producents of salt in India. Salt people. They belongs to the lowest caste.  Eight monts a year they swink in salt wolds. They must interrupt the work during monsoon.

According to estimations there are approximately 150 000 people working in salt fields in India. Lives of half million people depend on salt. Workers are day – labourers for owners of salt companies or they hire basins for themselves and sell salt to dealers. All families are working in salt basins. They dig dried salt – it is hard as a stone. Men, women and young boys and girls stand barefoot in aggressive salt. It comes into their skin, bites in every wound. Nobody uses protective gloves or boots. Children hardly attend any classes at school. Thin women carry heavy pots full of salt on their heads. How much do they weight? Thirty kilos? Forty? They transfer incredible 196 tuns of salt every year. It is 8,7 % of the salt produced in India. India is third biggest producer of salt, after USA and China. They mine 17 million tuns every year.

Salt mining has long tradition in India. During colonial times there were high taxes on salt from India. Britain tried to make Indians to use salt from Great Britain. Salt resistance was one form of Gandhi´s nonviolent revolution. People didn´t buy british salt.

Health insurance is almost noteless in India. Salt workers have no insurance. They have no official minimum wage. Hopeless situation of common people, depending of income from salt, woke up the Indian government. It created special commision to look over life and labour conditions of salt workers. They are well – known: low salaries, no medical assistance, no protective equipment, no possibility for children to attend the school... Hard to say if the commision will change hard lives of workers in salt wasteland.

 

 

More photos on facebook gallery:

http://www.facebook.com/photos.php?id=1475550431#!/album.php?aid=2050174&id=1475550431&op=6


Category: Poverty | Tags:


Comments

  • Iwona Frydryszak on 20th July 2010:

    thanks for sharing. very interesting story. it reminds me about miners in Bolivia…


  • Daniel Nylin Nilsson on 21st July 2010:

    Is the salt consumed in India, or is it exported?


  • Hussam Hussein on 21st July 2010:

    Interesting story, thanks again! smile


  • Luan Galani on 21st July 2010:

    Marvellous post, Jana. These people have to be heard.
    I’m a big fan of your stories. Keep them coming.
    BTW, what photos!!!


  • Sylwia Presley on 25th July 2010:

    Very good story, very true indeed! Glad you flagged it up on THINK3


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