The Story of Vedaranyam Salt Satyagraha Unfolded

The Story of Vedaranyam Salt Satyagraha Unfolded

Vedaranyam, Tamil Nadu, is the second-largest producer of salt in India. The acres of saltpans that stretch out in Vedaranyam are well known for their second-largest production of salt in the nation. However, behind the success lies the torments of laborers toiling hard under the scorching sun to produce salt that reaches our table daily. 

In this article, Sonam, SBI Youth for India fellow, writes about the conditions of the salt workers in Vedaranyam.

The Plight of Salt Workers

The salt workers of Vedaranyam are employed under extreme conditions and sometimes even work without using toilets and avoiding drinking water for a whole day.

The workers, who number around twenty thousand, work in saltpans under the ruthless sun for long hours, leading to various health issues. 

Vedaranyam Salt Satyagraha

Women, in particular, are involved in land preparation and the collection of salt, standing in highly concentrated brine for a long time, which results in anemia, cataract, irreversible skin problems, UTI, URT and LRT disorders, TB, hypertension, disfigured bones, arthritis, and gynecological disorders.

Due to monsoons during September to December, the salt pan workers have no work or income. They survive during these festive days by taking loans from their saltpan owners, which is deducted from their daily wages when they resume their work. This creates almost a “bonded labor” scenario.

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The Work Process

The saltpan work involves clearing the ground of dust and segmenting it into pans with small wells dug along the side. The pans are filled with water from these wells and trampled upon until the bottom layer becomes firm. The briny water is then transferred from one pan to another through narrow channels.

Vedaranyam Salt Satyagraha 1

The surface is frequently scraped with heavy wooden rakes to even out the salt which is gradually captured and dried by heat, transforming the pans into hard fields of coarse salt. The crystals are broken by trampling and raked into heaps.

The Lack of Basic Facilities

The workers do not opt for safety gear for financial and comfort reasons. There is also a lack of toilets and resting shades to have food, in the salt pans that spread across acres of land mass. Hence workers avoid consuming food and water before they leave for work, worsening their health status.

“The saltpans are sacred to them, and hence they discourage any idea related to toilets/urinals in the saltpan,” says Mr. Mariappan, traditional village president.

He believes it is critical that the village members have a robust source of income from saltpan work. However, it never serves as a reliable source of income due to the unavailability of work in monsoons, fluctuating wages, and a deteriorating work environment.

Vedaranyam Salt Satyagraha 3

The Need for Change

Doctors suggest that the workers need to be rehydrated for them to withstand the harsh work environment. Zero-drainage urinals might help them get rid of the taboo associated with having sanitation facilities in saltpans. Dehydration being the root cause of the catastrophe of ailments can be combated by providing urinals and awareness about the significance of consuming drinking water amongst the saltpan workers.

What is most disturbing is when workers address their issues as if they have accepted the wounds and pain as a part of their life. Being unaware of their language of expression, it is certain that the misery is far more intense than what can be perceived.


A span of eleven months isn’t enough to mitigate the misery.