Sunday, June 12, 2011

Understanding water security from gender perspective in Peri-urban Gurgaon

‘Roti, Kapda aur Makaan’ – Food, Cloth and House, this old saying certainly needs another addition in the form of Paani (water). So, the new saying would rather be ‘Roti, Kapda, Paani aur Makaan’ in this age of rapid urbanization! Field visits to peri-urban villages in Gurgaon have provided very interesting gender perspective of water issues. This particular blog post will focus mainly on women’s’ perspective.

During last year’s winter, on the very first day of formal field visit to Jhanjhrola Khera, interview with an old lady could not be completed as she became very vocal about water issues and simply walked away. Coincidentally, that was my first day of field work and I decided to observe this phenomenon very carefully during the course of next field visits. Over numerous visits, it was observed that in general, women spoke fervently and were more vocal than men, about water issues in the village. During one such visit to Jhanjhrola Khera, we came across a woman who had taken about 17 acres of land on Kann (A type of land tenure system). Her husband worked in a company in Gurgaon and she was left to take care of this vast stretch of land. She also had to fetch water for household consumption daily from the hand pump in village temple. Fetching drinking water from this hand pump is part of daily routine of many other women in the village. At times, they have to wait for about forty-fifty minutes for their turn to get water. The situation becomes worse in summer when they have to make numerous trips to the hand pump and also wait longer in queues. In Sultanpur village, the routes to such common hand pumps have been diverted with the construction of railway station. Women are forced to take a relatively longer route to be able to fetch water. A very interesting comment from womenfolk in Jhanjhrola Khera has been that the daughters in this village are better off, as they get married and leave the village. But women, who get married in this village, are at loss since they have to fetch water all the time!

Fetching water from such community hand pumps also signals towards change in traditions. During a visit to one ‘Rajput’ household, it was found that traditionally, in ‘Rajput’ families, women from the house never went to fetch water. However, the male member of the household admitted that this tradition does not hold true anymore. In his words, ‘ab parda paat gaya hai’ – the curtain has been removed! He went on to add that the household will not function if the tradition is followed even now.

Women are closely related to water usage, as they have to take care of the day to day needs. However, they have to struggle more for their access to water for daily requirements. The issue of women empowerment surfaces out in this context. Although the village Panchayats in Haryana have 50% seats reserved for women, they are hardly able to make any decisions about the village issues. The panchayat meetings are attended by respective male counterparts and the woman representative is simply required to give her signature to validate the decision. This is where need arises of their empowerment in real sense and not just on paper.

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