Salt is one of Goa’s oldest traditional industries. Yet it receives scant attention, and is in a precarious situation today, reveals the PhD thesis by Reyna Sequeira according to a press release by Goa 1556.
“It needs serious attention from academicians, policy makers and politicians,” says Reyna Sequeira.
Presented at the Goa University’s Department of Sociology, the thesis points out that out of the twenty one traditional salt producing villages of Goa only eleven villages continue at it.
This in turn affected or led to the displacement of the salt maker’s traditional occupation. Five different communities extract local salt in Goa — the Mithgaudas, Gauddis, Bhandaris, Agris and the Ager.
Sequeira’s work focuses on three villages in three different talukas of Goa — Batim of Tiswadi, Arpora of Bardez, and Agarvaddo of Pernem.
Salt, she points out, has played an important role in human history. No substance other than water has been used with such regularity as salt. The value of salt was also known long before humans began to write their history.
Her thesis titled “The Mitagars of Goa: a study of community in transition”, looks at salt making in Goa over past centuries, and focuses on some historical factors which have changed the salt making occupation in Goa.
Among other things, her thesis looks in details at the Mithgaudas of Agarvaddo, and their traditional roots, ownership patterns of salt-patterns, socio-cultural life, economic and political life, and the impact of modern technology.
In Batim, she studies the Agris, the pre-conversion practices, their social organization, cultural organization, among others. Sequeira also looks at how migrants have been incorporated and how the community is organized around the salt-making economy.
Studying the Bhandaris and Gauddis of Arpora, Sequeira discusses the history and the etymology of the village. She seeks to bring out the social changes that have occurred over a period of time.
Comparing and contrasting the three villages, she studies regional variations with respect to the caste, status of women, ownership pattern and pisciculture.
The thesis also details the transition that the salt-making communities have undergone from the year 1992 and the role of the state in implementing policies that impact the salt makers are also studied. These questions are related to cultural and economic dimensions of globalization.
In Agarvaddo the salt makers have traditionally remained loyal to the work of salt making. They have still not become the owners of the land.
In Arpora they have slowly ceased to work in the saltpans due to various reasons. In Batim the Agris do not work in the saltpans and instead employ the migrant workers from Karnataka, her study notes.
Says the researcher: “Goa’s salt industry, which had been the major exporter of salt to the rest of India and even foreign countries, is declining today and could go into extinction.”
In the past five decades, a number of factors have cut into the traditional salt economy. Like the breaching of bunds (riverside protective embankments), growth of export-oriented pisciculture, land-reclamation, real-estate developments, labour shortage and water pollution caused due to the growth of industries in some salt-farming areas.
The findings of the study indicate that there are no records maintained by government authorities in Goa about the estimates of the present day salt production in Goa.
Most importantly, the government must formulate a State Salt Policy in line with the National Salt Policy before this industry of the spice of life reaches a point of no return, the researcher advocates.