Friday, December 05, 2008

Yet to be Freed

Agariyas’ Lives and Struggle for Survival in the Little Rann of Kutch

- Charul Bharwada
- Vinay Mahajan


Every map of Gujarat has a dotted area labeled the Rann of Kutch – the Greater and the little. For those who have not seen the Rann, it is often an image of a desert - a landscape with sand and dunes. For those who have, it is a vast flat land with salt crust in the winters and summers and a big lake in the monsoon. Most people imagine it to be an area devoid of life and activity. But, the reality beyond these dotted lines has an interesting history and a complex present with many rulers, communities, animals and birds having diverse uses and strong relations with this landmass.
Agariyas, the traditional salt producers living on the edge of the Little Rann of Kutch is one such community having a unique livelihood relation with the Rann. Despite age old ingenious skills in making salt in the Rann and their significant contribution their lives remain socio-economically poor due to shrinking markets; perpetually exploited; ecologically threatened due to the proposed Wild Ass Sanctuary and administratively unattended and uncared. This paper is an exploration in agariyas’ livelihood system and their constant struggle for survival beyond the dotted lines of map.
The paper briefly describes history and ecology of the Little Rann of Kutch and diverse livelihoods practiced around it. It brings out through various historical documents how salt making in the Rann has been centuries old occupation. It further goes on to explore the economics of salt making from the Agariyas’ perspective and various threats faced by them.
(Charul Bharwada is an Architect and Planner from CEPT, Ahmedabad. Vinay Mahajan is an Agricultural Engineer and a management post graduate from IIM, Ahmedabad. After some years work in the corporate sector, they have been trying to study and understand the issues of natural resource dependent marginalised communities. They both are founders and principal researchers of SANDARBH Studies, Ahmedabad. through their small set up SANDARBH Studies. In order to share the findings of their studies with people, they also write and compose songs.)

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