Mumbai

Going back to the salt pans of Mumbai

Salt track: The city’s salt pans are spread from Wadala to Mahul, Kanjurmarg to Vikhroli and Goregaon to Bhayander.   | Photo Credit: Prashant Nakwe

It’s 89 years since the famous salt satyagraha led by Mahatma Gandhi, who marched 241 miles to Dandi along with 80 people to break the salt law imposed by the British. In Mumbai, a group of enthusiasts recently relived a part of history by participating in a salt pan walk at Wadala organised by the Asiatic Society of Mumbai.

“Mumbai was always known for its salt pans. From Shivaji Maharaj to the British, everyone had interest in this region because of its salt pans,” Vinayak Parab, a member of the Mumbai Research Centre of the Asiatic Society, who led the walk, said. Mr. Parab has been researching salt pans for the past six years.

The city’s salt pans are spread from Wadala to Mahul, Kanjurmarg to Vikhroli and Goregaon to Bhayander. On the eastern side, the British had built a narrow-gauge railway between Mahul and Wadala and from Vikhroli towards Thane to collect and transport salt. Remains of these tracks are visible in some places. During Gandhi’s salt satyagraha in 1930, many locations in Mumbai witnessed the civil disobedience movement, but the satyagraha at Wadala salt pan was the most prominent. Thousands of satyagrahis would gather at the Wadala salt pans and often face brutal lathi charge.

On the eastern side of the city, the British had built a narrow-gauge railway line between Mahul and Wadala and from Vikhroli towards Thane to collect and transport salt. File photo.

On the eastern side of the city, the British had built a narrow-gauge railway line between Mahul and Wadala and from Vikhroli towards Thane to collect and transport salt. File photo.   | Photo Credit: Prashant Nakwe

 

“Salt has a very rich history. It was the first commodity that was traded. It plays an important role in our body. The words salary and soldier have originated from salt. But today, we never look at salt with such importance,” he said. In ancient Rome, soldiers were given money to buy salt, which was expensive but essential, and sometimes even paid in salt.

Salt pans, Mr. Parab said, play a significant role in the ecology of the city and an entire culture has evolved around it. “Salt pans have different species of birds and insects thriving on them. They have an enormous water-holding capacity that helps in flood control. The communities that work on salt pans have their own songs revolving around them,” said Mr. Parab. There is a lack of awareness about salt pans, he said. With the government’s plan to use the salt pans for affordable housing projects, they now face a threat of extinction.

“I knew about how important salt pans were but there were so many new aspects that were unknown to me. For example, I had no idea that Shivaji Maharaj had fought a battle with the Portuguese to control the salt pans here,” Omkar Salunkhe, a history teacher from Wilson College, who participated in the walk, said.

Dr. Shehernaz Nalwalla, a managing committee member of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, said that every nugget of information was new to her. “We consume salt every day but we take it for granted. The walk exposed many new dimensions of salt to us,” she

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Printable version | Apr 15, 2021 4:08:58 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/going-back-to-the-salt-pans-of-mumbai/article26696067.ece

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