Gram Chetna Kendra, Rajasthan

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Gram Chetna Kendra
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Distt - Jaipur (Rajasthan) - 303603
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Home  |  About Us  |  Sambhar Lake Area Overview & Issues

Sambhar Lake Area Overview & Issues

Sambhar - which literally means salt - refers to India's largest saline lake, with a record of salt production that goes back 1,500 years and is responsible for Rajasthan being the third largest salt producer in the nation. Sambhar Leke’s catchment area spreads across the districts of Nagaur, Jaipur, Ajmer and Sikar.

People in the area are mostly poor and belong to the most deprived sectors of society, such as scheduled castes, tribes and other backwards castes. Their annual per capita income ranges between Rs. 6000-16000 per annum and is mostly derived fromsaltpanwork, marginal farming, agricultural labour and animal husbandry.Wages fluctuate seasonally, as does the demand forwage labour and they are precariously dependent onweather conditions. Since the area is characterized by scanty and irregular rainfall, drought is frequent, causing large fluctuations in agriculture and livestock productions. During the last 10 years, the main source of water (i.e. wells, ponds and tanks) have dried up, thus, crop production has been considerably reduced and acute shortage of drinking water has emerged, reducing households overall water security. As a result of these conditions, the majority of households have a fragile survival base and are constantly exposed to uncertainties, risks and stress.

Furthermore , s i n c e the s ca rce manufacturing and service sectors fail to provide employment, migration arises as a solution. However, salt labour, which remains one of the major hopes of earning a livelihood for the habitants in the area nearby, hides a cruel reality. Here, salt harms as it sustains, giving employment as well as disease and ultimately death as the final payment to those who work in the salt fields. Saltpan workers live at the mercy of an exploitative regime; badly and inconsistently paid, with no employment benefits or legal protection. They earn around 80 to 150 rupees a day, but can be without payment for weeks.Women are invariably the ones who get the lowest wage, despite working in the same hard conditions as men. Unorganized, labourers lack the coordination and skills to present their views/concerns unanimously and raise their voices against this type of exploitation.

In addition to the economic insecurity, labourers face severe health issues. Saltpan workers suffer from skin diseases, joint pain in their hands and especially their legs, bony deformities due to the high fluoride content of thewater, TB and blindness, brought on by the harsh sun. Laborers work barefoot in the salt mines for nine to ten hours per day without any protective gear, causing their faces to wrinkle and become desiccated and their feet to develop thick rashes. They rarely look their age and their life expectancy is a terrible 45 years. Child labour is an obvious violation of children's rights, which are enshrined in both the Indian constitution and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is a denial of childhood and a drastic amputation of children's chances to break the cycle of poverty and aspire for a better future. However, not only saltpanworkers suffer froma harsh and deprived lifestyle. Due to decliningwater table, which forceswells to be dug deep into the mineral rich bedrock, almost 100 villages of Sambhar, Nagaur, Jaipur, and Kuchaman are affected by contaminated water. Water is saline, from its proximity to the lake, as well as having high concentrations of fluoride and inadequate sanitation and hygiene practices further exacerbate the situation.

Nevertheless, people are bound to drink unhealthy water and a whole community suffers from the effect on people's health. Children suffer theworst since they are particularly vulnerable, mortality and morbidity due towaterborne and infectious diseases are quite frequent. Lack of access to health facilities due to insufficient governmental structures and their distance from the small villages, makes the situation even more difficult. This turns treatable diseases into deadly illnesses, diarrhoea, pneumonia, malaria, cholera, tuberculosis and various worms become serious issues. Given the constraints of limitedwater resources, recurrent droughts and lowering of the groundwater table every year, the possibility of bringing more land under cultivation is limited. Furthermore, rainwater, which passes through salt plant/factories, goes into fields and slowly turns productive fields into barren land, resulting in even lower crop production. The result, hunger is a reality and the high level of malnourished children requires urgent action.

In this scenario, one cannot be surprised that education is not a priority. Investments in education yield great successes but the results take several years for the benefits to appear. Therefore in an area where government's long term commitment is weak and households face economic insecurity, sending children to school can often be neglected. Consequently, low education levels, persistent adult illiteracy and low enrolment rates in formal education characterize the whole area.However, the first to suffer fromthese challenges are the particularlymarginalized sectors of society.

Caste, gender and social status continue to play an important role in people's lives and the development process. Information is not easily available due to the remote area and results in the persistence of taboos,myths and misconceptions, which creates a difficult and intricate situation. Children from lower castes form the vast majority of child labour. Gender discrimination persists, often in extremeforms. Nearly80%of the children engaged in salt pan labour are girls, they are the first ones to abandon school and the last ones to receive medical support when household income can not fulfill family needs and they tend to be disproportionately malnourished and anaemic.

Child marriage is still a common practice and a continued source of emotional stress and mental and physical health problems to the child. Female children remain vulnerable to physical abuse at the hands of her husband and his family. Early pregnancy frequently causes several health problems for both the mother and child sometimes even leading to death. However, the discrimination starts long before birth. The rate of female infant mortality surpasses that of males as the birth of a boy is seen as an asset and an honour to the family, while a girl is felt as a burden.

This discriminatory treatment of the female children perpetuates and deepens the marginalization ofwomen. In this intricate and complex scenario, there is obviously no place for children's voice or complaints. Loyalty, obedience, sacrifice, bravery, vows, commitments towords and social distances are objectively manifested, recognized and legitimized by culture and education. The causes of the poverty that plagues this region are as diverse as the people themselves; therefore no single solution can be targeted as a panacea. It is urgent to act in a wise and conscientiousway, assuming our responsibility in creating the opportunities for the people themselves to develop their inherent potential.

Syntheticallywe can identify the major issues affecting children in the area as:

Child labour and exploitations included marriage and infanticide
Gender discrimination
Lowenrolment rates at school and high drop out rates
Lack of awareness and information on children's rights by adults, parents and local authority Figures
Persistence ofmyths, taboos and misconception (complicated by lack of available information)
Improper hygiene and health practices athomelevel
Unavailability of safewater fordomestic use due to high fluoride content in the groundwater
Lack of health and education governmental structures and improper transportation facilities
Lowand unstable family income
Parents outside home for long periods, which results in children growing without supervision or adequate stimulation. Further complicated by seasonal migration.
Non-participation in decision-making process at family level.
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