How often have we come across a landmass that happens to be as transformative (rather dramatically) as the one found in and around the Little Rann of Kachchh (LRK)? In all fairness, it happens to be quite a ‘unique’ piece of land, having characteristics of deserts as well as wetlands. The LRK is a salt marsh in Gujarat, spread across an area of over 3,570 sq. km.
Approximately 70% of India’s salt production units are concentrated in Gujarat, and the LRK happens to be the country’s salt production hub. The area houses the Agariya community. These people have been living here for ages, doing what they do best, i.e. producing salt. The Wounded Souls of the Rann, a film by Dinesh Lakhanpal, throws light on the tedious but fascinating process of salt production.
The film brings to light the problems and challenges associated with salt production and how the harvesting cycle gets underway during winter. The Agariyas work in the LRK for about 7-8 months while battling it out against the harsh weather conditions on offer. These people live in shacks beside their salt fields. The Agariyas get started early in the morning in order to avoid the rising mercuries, which tend to soar above 40 degrees even in December. Nothing short of a superhuman effort is required to keep your body and soul together in such harsh weather conditions.
Moving on, carrying equipment over the marshy landscape happens to be a herculean task. Vehicles cannot be used during the post-monsoon season. Consequently, salt workers are required to move all of their equipment by hand (using physical force).
The film sheds ample light on the price a person has to pay after deciding to become a salt worker. In this way, it brings us closer to some of the realities that have been lying under wraps for ages. The team working behind the camera brings us some thought-provoking visuals. Many of these visuals seem painted with a fog of despair.
The voiceover accompanying the visuals is no less powerful. The scriptwriters deserve a pat on their backs for weaving the narrative together that is powerful enough to make all of us think. It will compel you to spare a thought for those working in such taxing conditions. Many die after coming in contact with toxic gases while digging wells. There are those who suffer from chronic eye problems because of the reflections off the shiny white surface.
Furthermore, the film also highlights the problems faced by salt workers owing to managerial drawbacks. A huge chunk of the region’s salt manufacturing sector still falls under the unorganised sector. This means that government intervention within the region is minimal. This tends to intensify the problem even further. The absence of adequate government intervention, more often than not, leads to the exploitation of the salt workers.
To sum it up, Wounded Souls of the Rann provides the viewers with a rich and detailed account of the hardships that an average salt worker has to go through during the production process. In simple words, it makes us realise that every single thing, even something as insignificant as a salt cellar lying on our kitchen tables, comes at a huge price that someone else has to pay.