With a pinch of salt!

Vedaranyam, Tamil Nadu is the second largest producer of salt in India. It employs around twenty thousand people, who work under extreme conditions sometimes even without using toilets and avoiding to drink water for a whole day.
Sonam, SBI Youth for India fellow, writes here about the conditions of the salt workers of Vedaranyam.

While the acres of saltpans that stretch out in Vedaranyam are best known for its second largest production of salt in the nation, it has been witness to the torments of laborers toiling hard under the scorching sun to produce salt which reaches our table daily.

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“I was 14 when I started working in the saltpans”, says 56 year old Shantana. “There is no work during monsoons; we have severe bleeding during menstruation; many of us have faced miscarriages. Skin, eye, bone disorders are common for us. I’ve seen women working till 8-9 months of their pregnancy and some of them work till the age of 70”.

Shantana, Saltpan worker

Due to monsoons during September to December, the salt pan workers have no work or income. They survive during these festive days by taking loans from their saltpan owners, which is deducted from their daily wages when they resume their work. This creates almost a “bonded labor” scenario.

Saltpan work: The ground is cleared of dust and segmented into pans with small wells dug along side. The pans are filled with water from these wells and trampled upon until the bottom layer becomes firm. The briny water is then transferred from one pan to another through narrow channels. The surface is frequently scraped with heavy wooden rakes to even out the salt which is gradually captured and dried by heat, transforming the pans into hard fields of coarse salt. The crystals are broken by trampling and raked into heaps.




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Women in particular are involved in land preparation, collection of salt which makes them to stand in highly concentrated brine under the ruthless sun with micron level salt crystals in the air for a long time. Anemia, cataract, irreversible skin problems, UTI, URT and LRT disorders, TB, hypertension, disfigured bones, arthritis, gynecological disorders amongst women are more prevalent. The workers do not opt for safety gear for some financial and comfort reasons. There is a lack of toilets and resting shades to have food, in the salt pans that spread across acres of land mass. Hence workers avoid consuming food and water before they leave for work, worsening their health status.

“The saltpans are sacred to them and hence they discourage any idea related to toilets/urinals in the saltpan”, says Mr. Mariappan, traditional village president.He believes it is critical that the village members have a robust source of income from saltpan work. However, it never serves as a reliable source of income due to unavailability of work in monsoons, fluctuating wages and a deteriorating work environment.

Mariappan, traditional village president
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Doctors suggest that the workers need to be rehydrated for them to withstand the harsh work environment. Zero-drainage urinals might help them get rid of the taboo associated with having sanitation facilities in saltpans. Dehydration being the root cause for the catastrophe of ailments, it can be combated by provision of urinals and awareness about significance of consumption of drinking water amongst the saltpan workers.

What is most disturbing is when workers address their issues as if they have accepted the wounds and pain as a part of their life. Being unaware of their language of expression, I am certain that the misery is far more intense than what I can perceive.11

A span of 11 months isn’t enough for mitigating the misery that the workers go through. Having said that, this fellowship experience so far has been an eye opener and is making me more responsible and sensitive.

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Workshop on ‘Jaarukta Prashikshan Karyakram’

Dr Suneeli Anand, SBI #YouthforIndia fellow, is working to create awareness regarding menstrual hygiene and health of women and adolescents and also is helping generate livelihood for the women SHGs at Dedtalai, Madhya Pradesh.

Read this short account of her experience in conducting a 2 day workshop, “Jaarukta Prashikshan Karyakram” with young girls and women from different villages


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I initiated my project by organising a 2 day workshop on the 15th and 16th of December. It was an awareness workshop, titled “Jaarukta Prashikshan Karyakram”, conducted on the 15th with school girls in Shekhpura Village. Next day around 55 women from different villages came to attend the workshop.



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The workshop was conducted by a trainer hired from National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) and it also included a small movie on menstrual hygiene and related facts. Girls from the school and the women of the SHG were really excited to see the movie. Leaflets that included important do’s and don’ts during menstruation were distributed to them.

A SHG member, who is also a Deputy Secretary of the women federation formed over here, Geeta Jiji, shared with the women present at the workshop, her experience of severe stomach ache that had badly affected her for a long time and ultimately she underwent an operation. The reason behind her severe stomach ache was because of the usage of cloth during the menses. Some of the school girls also shared their first period experiences with the crowd.


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Need for a path

How do you think can the skilled youth of Kherwada, Rajasthan find for themselves a stable source of income?

Siddhant writes to us that they are all well trained in mobile repairing, plumbing, house wiring, tailoring, etc, but lack further information on extending their skills for income generation.

Reena Parmar is a native of Asariwada village in the Kherwada block of Udaipur District. Though she had to quit studying due to family problems at the age of thirteen, she didn’t just sit back at home doing the household chores. She joined 3 months of tailoring training course earlier this year at Aajeevika Bureau, an organization which deals with skill training of the youth.

Reena Parmar

With the help of the organization, Reena got a sewing machine on loan with no interest. But the problem she faces nowadays is the low income, which amounts to a hundred rupees for a day whenever she has some work, and those are very few days in a month. This is nothing compared with the ability and knowledge she has of tailoring. As you may see in the picture, the dresses hanging behind is her creation!

Right now, she wants to take up bulk orders for stitching or make market linkages to start something on her own. However, owing to lack of information and reference, she is not able to start up. At a young age of 20 she has long way to go and lots to achieve, but the thing she needs is a path through which she may prove her abilities and earn some valuable money for herself and for her family.

This is not the only case in Kherwada. Many young people, after completing vocational training in the different fields as mobile phone repairing, plumbing, motor driving, house wiring, marble & tile fitting, two wheeler repairing, etc., are not able to find jobs or start a business of their own because of the lack of information and support from skill training agencies.

In my opinion the requirement for an information cell, where anyone can find information regarding job vacancies and other business options in their respective fields is a must in this area and definitely the need of the hour.

Stop bargaining!

Gokul, SBI #YouthforIndia fellow who is at Ganjam, Odisha tells us that the farmers there who basically cultivate Mango and Cashew, sell their produce at around Rs 10 per kg, whereas the market price is above Rs 25 per kg!

A thought to chew on, Gokul writes more about it below.

Agrarian communities work hard collectively with their families to grow crops for their livelihood as well as for us, “the consumers”. Moreover their collective efforts are not paid off well or even respected. The aftermath of it, they fall short of meeting their break even most of the times. The situation is no different here in Odisha. Due to the isolation of villages and perishable nature of the produce, producers can never make it to a better place for better prices!

While we make exact payments to supermarkets and branded shops as given on their price tags, there is a common tendency amongst us to bargain with the street and small scale vendors. This way, somehow, it’s not just the middlemen, we are also part of exploiting their livelihood.  It is high time to see the world from their perspective and not to forget to think again before strangling a family somewhere isolated, to death. It is for us to remember that nobody has the right to set the price tag for somebody else’s hard work.


Voice matters!

It definitely does for these young girls who have never before spoken out aloud in front of village elders about gender violence, child marriage and trafficking.  Simren Singh, SBI YouthforIndia fellow, writes about her experiences at a community meeting at Kherwada, Rajasthan.

Never before has any girl spoken in a community meeting. Never before have any one of them found the courage to express their opinions before elders.

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The two girls in the picture, Kalpana and Regina, are fighting odds by doing the unconventional.  At the ‘Mahila Hinsha Virodhi Pakhwada’,  they took up the challenge of presenting their views on child marriage and women trafficking and why they think it should be stopped. The people listened patiently and not just understood the severity of the situation at hand but also decided in taking collective action against the same.

The girls on the other hand were filled with joy and were surprised to witness their own hidden strengths.  It is no wonder why they say that every voice matters and it is we who must learn to value it.

In the picture above, the girls are showing their solidarity against child marriage and human trafficking.
In the picture above, the girls are showing their solidarity against child marriage and human trafficking.

‘Mahila Hinsha Virodhi Pakhwada’ – village forum which talks about gender violence.

In times like these, when we need more voices to be raised around gender violence, our SBI #YouthforIndia fellow Siddhant discovers in two villages, a discussion group where people come together and discuss issues related to women issues ranging from domestic violence to child marriage. 

As the name itself suggests, ‘Mahila Hinsha Virodhi Pakhwada’ is a place where not only women, but people from different age groups of the society, come together to discuss different issues related to violence against women. This meeting is organized every year all over India, from 25th November to 10th December by different organizations, NGOs, and SHGs.

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I attended two Pakhwada’s on the 5th and 6th of December, in my project location at Karawada and Kojawada, in Kherwada block of Udaipur District. Nearly 200 people comprising of men, women, elders and youths of almost 15 villages attended this ‘open ended discussion’ conducted by Seva Mandir in the respective Youth Resource Centres.


Topics like child marriage, increasing school dropout rates for girls, gender discrimination, eve teasing, early relationship between boys and girls in school and migration issues were discussed using the ‘problem, effect and solution analysis’ on a chart paper. There were groups formed according to varying age groups and each group had to come up with different success stories, case studies, problems and solutions.

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At the end of the day, it was decided that issues like child marriage and increasing school dropout rates for girls need to be immediately tackled in the villages as their rate is very high in this particular region.

Bay of Stereotypes

Nupur Ghuliani, SBI Youth for India fellow, who is at Kherwada, Rajasthan, writes about her experience of the fellowship.

Being from Delhi, a city I love for the record, but also a city notorious for its instances of crimes against women, I am very alert to say the least especially while using public transport.  And as an SBI YFI fellow, public transport is my lifeline, the only way I get anywhere close to getting some work done. So here I was completely in control of my breath, painfully alert to every touch, every stare, onboard a public bus, when from the corner of my eye I see a pair of eyes trained at me like a predator’s. As per my personal set of rules, I looked at him and began the Stage1 ‘stare-back’ counter attack. With this counter attack, the enemy generally gets embarrassed and looks away. At least in 90% of the cases. In case of the other 10%, I have to eventually look away, a little shiver in the pit of my stomach determined to put my pepper spray to good use if need be. So cut to present, this man is slowly reaching the 10% category with full 2.7 seconds into holding my stare and then he clears his throat and says – ‘aap baith jaaiye please’ (Please sit down). I remember smiling to myself and making a short mental note (Lesson#1) – when a man here stares at you for too long, he probably means to offer you a seat.

Another such incident where I ended up having a full-fledged friendly conversation with a man on a jeep made me realize that I really need to rethink my pre-conceived notions about my interaction with people. Lesson #2 – when a man here asks too many questions, he’s probably fascinated by your urban origins; curious to know what brings you to his tiny town.

And then again there was another incident. As we crossed one house after another in the untamed wild landscape of Kotra (a tribal block in Udaipur district), some of the houses had a bunch of lines written in Hindi on their façade. Having last studied written Hindi in class 10, I shamefully accept that my Hindi reading abilities were handicapped by sheer lack of practice (though due to the continuous interaction with villagers coupled with designing and creating stationery in Hindi, my skills have improved manifold ever since). Anyway, as I crossed some of those houses, I happened to read the first sentence of the two written, it said:

Apni bahu betiyon ko baahar na jaane dein

(Don’t let your daughters and daughters-in-law step out)

I was horrified. How could these people be so brazen about their orthodox misogynistic views? This, when hundreds of us in the cities are standing up for women’s rights, trying hard to deconstruct gender roles and mouldy stereotypes?

These thoughts though intense lasted only for a few moments, right till I was able to read the next and last line:

Ghar mein hi shauchalaya banayein

(Build a toilet in your own home)

What looked like an oppressive instruction had now assumed its actual role that of being an advice to protect women from relieving themselves in public, that of guarding a woman’s dignity.

It opened my eyes to how short-sighted and assumptious we can be.

These incidents one after the other made me realize that I know this place and its people only as much as the village women here know about selfies. So let’s keep the stereotypes at bay.

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