Working in the Salt Pans of Marakkanam.
by Saravanan Dhandapani
Salt - every human needs it. Without salt, life couldn't exist. It's available everywhere and we see all sorts of advertisement about the salt products from various brands. But we never get to see the story behind it...
Tamil Nadu is one of the few Indian states that produces salt. In Tamil Nadu, salt is produced primarily in the three districts of Nagapattinam, Tuticorin and Marakkanam in Villupuram. I'd like to share the story of the salt production at Marakkanam in Villupuram Dist.
The salt pan workers work under extremely hazardous conditions. They work with the harsh sun beating down upon their bodies, without a single shade spot around them and have employment only for about six months of the year. Their daily wage varies between 35 Rupees to 85 Rupees (US$ 0,78 to 1,90). Women generally get paid lower than men. In Marakknam, most of the workers belong to the Schedule Caste communities. It's estimated that there are about 3.000 workers in the Marakkanam area.
While poverty, indebtedness and deprivation are common to all the salt pan workers, the women, as in many other poor communities, become greater victims of poverty. Generally, they suffer from serious gynaecological problems and malnutrition and anaemia are also very common. They also don't have a support systems to take care of their children. They hardly have access to any quality medical care. Since usually both the parents go to work in the salt pans, it's not clear who takes care of their children.
I have captured these people's activities in three seasons: Initial ground preparation, salt making and storing, and finally during the rainy season where the ground is flooded with water... I have been there many times to see the activities and I used to talk to them about their work and life balance. To be frank I was so shocked while seeing their work on the field, because it was so hot and if you're there for more than 15 minutes, you can really feel that the water level in our body decreasing. It's a harsh reality and it'll hit you very hard once you've experienced it.
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