Mumbai: The burden of water scarcity is most often borne by women in India. More so in villages, where it is a common practice for them to walk miles to fetch water from some distant river, stream or well, or queue up for hours at the single source of water in the neighbourhood to collect enough for the family.
The condition in Maan, a taluka in Maharashtra’s Satara district, was no different. With an average annual rainfall of 350mm, the taluka and its 104 villages had been drought-prone for several years.
Erratic rainfall over the past decade has resulted in a situation where only a fifth of the land in Maharashtra is irrigated and over half of the state is dependent on rainfall for agriculture and allied activities.
Coupled with farmers’ decision to grow water-guzzling crops such as sugarcane, this has resulted in water scarcity in western Maharashtra and Marathwada regions.
But this summer has been different. What was once a water scarce village, now has sufficient water.
This was made possible by a joint initiative of NGO Coro India and 24 local organisations who, with help from the state government, were able to make six villages in Maan — including Partavdi — drought-free.
How did they do it? By enlisting the support of 90 women from the taluka. With the result that today, water levels in these villages have risen by 14-15 feet, with four out of six villages in no need of water tankers.
‘Woman have to fight for water’
Recalling her past struggle, Padma Mohite of Partavdi village in Maan told ThePrint, “Since morning when I woke up, until 1 pm, women in my neighbourhood used to go out to fetch water in the well nearby.”
“The well was around 35-feet deep and we used to climb down inside the well and fill our buckets using small bowls. Someone used to stand outside the well to fetch the bucket.”
Mohite said this daily struggle for water also had an impact on her children’s education. The children had to accompany me to the well to fetch water and ended up missing their bus most days of the week, Mohite said.
Vijaya Bhosale from Thadale village said she, too, along with her children, had to walk 1.5 km everyday to fetch water. “It was always the women who went to fetch water and had to fight for water,” she told ThePrint.
A resident of Panghari village, Swati Dadas revealed the water tanker showed up at her village only once every 10-15 days. “We couldn’t store water that would last for 12 days. Water would hardly last for 4-5 days then we used to beg around to see if anyone would give us a pot or two of water,” she said.
With the Coro India initiative, however, these struggles are now a thing of the past in Maan.
A community-led approach, the initiative was launched in 2017 and took four years to yield the desired result. The Maharashtra government sanctioned Rs 1.44 crore to support the initiative.
Building a ‘water school’ & ‘gram kosh’
Coro India, the NGO, first entered Maan taluka somewhere in 2016-17 and floated two initiatives: water school and gram kosh.
As part of the water school initiative, volunteers were trained to rely on scientific information to conserve water. The gram kosh, on the other hand, was aimed at creating a corpus of Rs 1 lakh, managed by the village committee to sustain the project in the future.
A resident of Pachvad village, Megha Dombe, was among the women who were part of the initiative. Dombe said she first received training on how to reduce the wastage of water, followed by training on how to conduct meetings to teach villagers how to do the same.
The NGO also formed a committee of local women tasked with studying the scarcity in wells, groundwater and borewells in Maan taluka. This was done with the help of geological surveys and mapping.
“We first had to construct a big trench to collect water that went to waste when we washed clothes, or utensils and other such work. But for that, we had to have meetings with other villagers to educate them about the wastage of water and how to store it,” Dombe told ThePrint.
Emphasis was also laid on farming of fruits and crops that require less water, said the women who were part of the initiative.
Rising above biases
Part of the initiative was teaching villagers rainwater harvesting techniques and the use of drip and sprinkler irrigation systems for agriculture, and crop rotation patterns.
“Such things required the support of local men and youngsters. We had a tedious job of convincing them. The process itself took six odd months,” Dombe said.
She added: “When I wanted to join, family members did not give me permission to attend meetings. You know how it is in villages, they think if a woman steps out of the house, she gets license to talk however she wants, her behaviour, her lifestyle everything gets changed, so my family members did not want me to go out.”
The opposition was not always from family. For Swati Dadas of Panghari village, her family did not object to her participation in the initiative. But the other villagers were not so supportive.
“Initially, we had to do even the physical work of constructing a rainwater harvesting system. Men used to say since you took the initiative, you do the rest of the work too. Since you don’t want to listen to men, you go ahead and do whatever you want to. We won’t help you,” Dadas told ThePrint.
It was only later that the villagers realised that they could not resolve the water crisis without eliminating all gender and caste biases in order to be able to work together as one unit.
Despite such resistance and social backlash, women from these villages managed to pull off the extraordinary feat of making their area drought free.
Sujata Khandekar, founder of the NGO Coro India, told ThePrint, “There was a will to address the issue and Coro facilitated the process of bringing them together, helping them collaborate, while bringing technical expertise to the table.”
The aim, now, is to expand this initiative to 32 more villages in Maharashtra’s Maan taluka.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)