On March 12, 1930, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi began the Salt March. Along with a few followers, he set out from Sabarmati and walked to the coastal village of Dandi. A journey of nearly 400 kilometers lasting 23 days. He had decided to make the Salt Tax imposed by the British as a focal point of nonviolent political arrest. The British monopoly on the salt trade in India dictated that the sale or production of salt by anyone but the British government was a criminal offense.
On reaching the coast he picked up a clump of mud and salt and said, “With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire.” He then boiled it in seawater to make the salt which no Indian could legally produce.
Inspired by Gandhi’s salt march, a social enterprise called SABRAS, seeks to create a second salt march, attempting to bring dignity to the impoverished salt workers of the Kutch region.
Between 70-75% of India’s salt comes from the state of Gujarat. Little Rann of Kutch is famous for its unique salt-pans where salt is harvested by tribes called Agariyas. Producing salt is highly labour intensive, requiring water to be pumped out of the ground to create salt lakes that require constant raking to form crystals. Workers incur the highest costs when they borrow money to buy diesel to pump water into the salt lakes.
- Since Agariyas have to go deep inside the desert to get salt, the nearest village is 25-35 km far. Agariyas can bath only once in 8-10 days leading to health ailments. For last two years government tankers have stopped supplying water forcing the families to spend as much as Rs 2000 a month to procure water from private operators.
- Agariyas work relentlessly in severe heat conditions (nearly 50 degree Centigrade temperatures ) without any protective gear to protect their feet from absorbing too much salt. The condition is so serious that upon cremation, while rest of the body burns naturally, the feet stay undestroyed to the high levels of salt.
Around 50,000 Agariyas ‘cultivate’ salt every year. Often the Agariyas are engulfed in huge debts at the hands of traders and middlemen.
“Since they do not have cash and access to institutional credit, they have to borrow money from traders who provide credit, with the condition that the price of salt is fixed at 100 rupees/1,000kg. The market cost of processed salt is substantially more at 14,000/1,000kg,” says Rajesh Shah, 62, an entrepreneur who established a social enterprise company called Sabras in 2007 with the aim of increasing profits for small-scale producers.
SABRAS uses commerce to improve the lives of the Agariyas by (1) committing to fair trade practices, (2) offering innovative solar powered water pumps through a lease to own financing program and (3) providing salt workers the opportunity to become owners in SABRAS; all of which increase the overall profitability and productivity of the salt workers.