Have you ever imagined a kitchen without salt? Salt is such an important part of life that when the British began to tax it, we actually rose up and marched in protest. The importance of salt cannot be denied but yet are we treating the people who make it like machines. Has anyone imagined the plight of the salt pan workers across the country? To ensure that such workers are treated better, an IAS aspirant from the city, Sujitha S, has started a campaign on www.change.org, an advocacy platform and had addressed it to DMK MP TKS Elangovan, in the hope that the issue would become part of the party’s manifesto.
“This is the dark side of the white salt! The people who make the salt we eat are India’s unsung heroes. They do heavy manual labour in the harsh sun without protective equipment or safety precautions. I wanted to bring salt pan workers under the organised setup by maintaining employee registers at all salt pans and providing them personal protection equipment,” she tells us.
Work in the salt pans involves hard physical labour. Many workers suffer acute dehydration and dizziness. The thirst gets unbearable due to extreme heat. Prolonged exposure to dehydration also results in renal issues. “I met a couple of labourers in Marakkanam and Thoothukudi and got to know about the major problems they face. Constant exposure to the sun’s UV rays without protection can cause irreparable damage to a person’s optic nerve. Some of the workers wrap their legs with a plastic cover to avoid sunburns, which again is not healthy. In addition, they suffer from painful skin ulcers caused by constant exposure to sharp salt crystals which penetrates into their skin. They also develop fungal infections. Also, constant exposure to salt water doesn’t allow the wound to heal. One of the reasons for all this is that salt workers are employed as casual labours on a contract basis and aren’t covered by health insurance or other safety schemes,” shares Sujitha.
An organisation that works with the coastal people’s rights helped her to collect the data and other details. “It’s high time we raised our voices for them; their work structure needs to be redesigned completely. Workers should be educated about the need to use safety gear, its proper usage, and maintenance. Wages should be revised, and there should be proper toilets in every pan. It would be great if the government can provide alternate employment opportunities during the lean season to improve their livelihood options,” she explains.
She is also planning to do a documentary and a short film based on the salt pan workers. “I’ve met a few workers and shot some portions. Since this is a busy season for them, I’ve stopped with the shooting part as of now. But will soon recommence it,” remarks Sujitha.