Saturday, December 13, 2008


A few days ago C asked how salt was made. I gave him some vague answer about salt beds and evaporation and crystallization. Today's Washington Post has the story of one family that works on those salt beds. The latest in its series called A Woman's World - The Struggle for Equality Around the Globe, the story is about the unequal schooling opportunities for boys and girls in South Asia and traces the harsh life of one family as they leave their homes and spend part of the year near the salt beds.

Though the village of 12,000 is a seven-hour walk from Jyotsna's isolated hut on the salt pans, it might as well be England, it feels so different and far away.

"It's easier to be a boy," said Jyotsna, who was forced to drop out of school at 10 to help her parents. "They get to go to school." Jyotsna's mother said she could not afford to let all three of her children study, so she picked her daughter to work.


"I regret she has this hard life," said her mother, Ranjanben Patadia, 35. "But this is the destiny of girls. It was my destiny, too." Unlike her mother, who never set foot in a classroom, Jyotsna did study on and off for a few years, thanks to a major government effort over the past decade to enroll all children. Though Jyotsna can still barely read or write, that progress has made her more aware of what she is now missing.


Clack. Clack. Clack. The "machine," as everyone calls their water pump, sounds like a heartbeat. And in a way, it is. If it stops, so does life here. No more salt, money, meals. Jyotsna's parents earn $500 annually from mining salt, and that all depends on the rickety old pump sucking briny underground water to the surface.

Once there, the water is channeled into hand-dug ponds. The sun bakes it, and the salt crystals left behind are sold to flavor potato chips and scrambled eggs in distant lands.


Her parents had left before sunrise. They earn 35 cents for every 220-pound bag they fill with salt, so they start early and work late.


Her parents struggle in the heat, and her father, Bhopabhai Patadia, 39, sometimes collapses. He has high blood pressure, as do many people here, because too much salt seeps into his body through cracks in his bare feet.

I don't think I'll ever take salt for granted again. The photo gallery is especially gripping.

From the reporter's notebook, a wry look at toilet facilities, or the lack thereof, near the salt beds.

The entire series is a fascinating, sometimes hearwrenching, look into the lives of women in various corners of the world - Germany, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Pakistan, UK.

1 comment:

karrvakarela said...

thank you for sharing these images, sujatha. it's very easy to become ensconsced in our privileged lifestyles and forget about how the other half lives. this was humbling.