Agariyas? Who are Agariyas? Have you heard the name?
While buying iodine yukt namak of Tata, Ashirvad and other brands I never thought of makers one until I came across them. Do you know, where is the salt produced? Let me help you with it. 75 % of the entire salt of India is manufactured in Kutch. That’s amazing! But, do you know the hard work of salt pan workers behind it. Salt pan workers are locally known as Agariyas. Little Rann of Kutch which is a cyclical salty swampland about ten km from the Arabian Sea in the Kutch district of Gujarat is a household to the Agariyas, who gross their living by making salt for generations. They work unremittingly to provide us with the necessity of life and we don’t know about them.
What is Sea Salt Farming?
Sea salt farming always occurs in warm climates with little precipitation. Sea salt is garnered from shallow ponds called salterns or as they call pattas through the usual solar evaporation process. The Agariyas migrate each year during September to Little Rann of Kutch after monsoon water has ebbed and stayed till April or early May. Confronting the extreme temperature of the barren desert, the community lives for around six to seven months in makeshift shacks near salterns. Salt pans are built in a time frame of two months later which the pumping work of brine begins.
Family and Children of Agariya
Agariya children start working in the salt fields from the age of ten and that’s cruel, however, they have no option left otherwise as they keep on migrating. One thing I noticed that had no equipment on while farming. Few of them were conscious enough to wear gumboots while others trolled in either flip flops, socks and trust me barefoot! Barefoot was barefoot with cuts and cracks on their heels and feet and that’s shocking.
The bones of their legs are collected by their families and buried with salt in a small grave to decompose naturally.
Learn about salt – something everyone wants
Brine that is ten times saltier than the seawater is pumped and filled in the salt pans. Agariya workers and mould the floor pans with their bare feet levelling the cracks to stop the brine (salt-water) trickling back into the Earth. This is continually scraped with wooden equipment called gantaras. The salt is locally known as Badagara, simply meaning Bada means big and Agara means pan. Once the primary layer of salt is shaped, it is scraped with gantaras. The salt farmers incessantly rake the salt to develop smaller crystals and pile it up onto the sides of the salterns which is later sold to the factories for processing.
Now since the salt farms are washed out in the monsoon, where do Agariyas belong?
Just 10 kilometres from the Arabian Sea, there is a land of the Agariyas known as Surajbari Creek. From October to June, they labour grow salt in the large pan without a halt. In the rainy season, the Rann of Kutch is washed out in seawater. Salt pans get soaked in water as if nothing existed before. Again, when the water starts to recede in October, the Agariyas move in to begin their herculean task of building salt pans and pumping out saltwater.
Do you know, a salt worker of Kutch seldom lives beyond 60 years?
The adverse effect of Harsh weather on Agariyas
Years of hard work in harsh desert conditions inflict mayhem on their well-being. The salt farmers suffer from skin lacerations, severe eye glitches and also tuberculosis because of the intense reflections off the white salt deposits’ surfaces. Do you know, a salt worker of Kutch seldom lives beyond 60 years? Also heard that, when Agariyas die, their unusually thin legs, rigid with years of contact with highly saturated salt, do not burn in the funeral pyre. The bone legs are collected by their families and buried with salt in a small grave to decompose naturally.
So, we can say that Salt pan workers are the individuals who slog out their whole life to sustain our life! For that Ek chutki namak without which our curry would have not been so scrumptious! Learnt about Agariyas in my recent visit to Kutch. Was literary shocked and learnt about the life of the people that I was unknown to date.