Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Field scenario: Good and Bitter Experiences

Anushiya Shrestha
Research Assistant
Peri-urban Water Security Project
Nepal Engineering College

With regular field visits and meetings with local community, interaction with the local people has been easier. Still reaching the households as per the predefined strata and then meeting the male and female members from same household was not easy. As the caste system is well defined in Nepali community, getting to meet the individuals from a particular caste was not very difficult rather getting information from both male and female from a selected house was more challenging. Having very cooperative field assistant, Ms. Champa Gurung, meeting the criteria has been easier in Matatirtha. But at times expectation from the term “Project” makes me to disguise oneself as a student undertaking thesis. With field assistant from local community, identifying member of a relevant family at houses, fields, pastureland, shops or social recreational gathering, approaching the person for collecting the information is what we have been doing at Matatirtha.

After numbers of community interactions and having understood the general community water management strategy, the research team has now got into household questionnaire survey. The household questionnaire survey under process has unveiled diversity of water management techniques that people have been adopting as per their affordability in terms of economy, technology and information reach. The range varies from a very poor old couple who have been almost left out by sons to those Government first class level officers with all family members in service and agricultural land leased out on labor basis and field activities are still ongoing. The livelihoods range is broad. This reminds our field sites are "peri-urban".

Each day of the visits has been fruitful. Rapport built with community during the scoping phase of the project has been very helpful in reaching the households.  There are several cases where I have been offered tea, lunch and even rice from the respondent and at times people show interest to share their experiences that they start sharing very personal family matters which though may not be directly relevant to our study but it becomes very inconsiderate to stop them and try to generate only the relevant information. Along with good response, also have to face cases from very poor economy stating expectations for help to reduce their hardships and even comment like "Are you going to pay me?" Nevertheless, during the field visits, there are also cases where the embarrassing remarks have been made. One of such incident occurred upon taking our professional photographer to the site where a very rude comment was made telling "They are the people who show pictures of our village to donors and collect money based on our situations."

Regular interaction with key stakeholders is very necessary in generating information as the dynamic peri-urban sites are undergoing continuous changes. And it is very necessary to clarify the limitations of the project as a research team and individual researcher from the initial phase because as the rapport building proceeds, even the stakeholders expect personal benefits from the research institute which though could be very relevant at personal point of view due to their regular help for research and field activities but are completely beyond the reach as an individual researcher. Such situations become very awkward and have to be handled very carefully.
One major problem in the peri-urban sites that is quite prominent in Matatirtha is the power play as a great tool not only for individual benefit but also for cluster or community within the VDC. In the VDC, easily water accessed zones are those in which the local community includes one or more individuals with political engagement. Rather than getting stagnant and waiting for the local government to take the entire responsibility, this proactive action cannot be considered negative. The problem with this practice is, the clusters with no political engagement are lagged behind and the facilities are increasing driven to limited areas.  Those previously considered untouchable and discriminated as untouchable are not as under privileged as it was in the past. Their involvement in political parties based on ethnic groups has considerably overcome their marginality making them less vulnerable.

                                            "Afnai Gaon Ko Pani Khana Paisa Tirnu Parcha!"

The willingness to pay for services has not been quite impressive in this VDC as the majority of the community still considers the Government to be completely responsible for the developmental activities be it road extension, black topping or water services. "Afnai gaon ko pani khana paisa tirnu parch!" is a narration that mean we are paying money for water resource of our village which our ancestors had been drinking for free. The investment has been in construction of reservoir and distribution tanks and laying of pipes for household or public taps under different community water management schemes functioning in the VDC. In the VDC, these community schemes charge flat water tariff of Rs. 100 to Rs. 200 per month and as per the representatives of community water management committees, the willingness to pay this is not good putting these schemes under financial stress. As per them, this is one of the main reasons making the existing schemes trying to be united as Integrated Water Management Schemes and generate fund from District Development Committee. But the concept of replacing free water service with "affordable water service”, how pragmatic this concept could be is still in doubt and to be decided by the stakeholders.
There are cases where people are so habituated to external support that they feel it is the research team responsible to take the responsibility of managing water access for the community. During a local community meeting at Takhel in ward no.1 of Matatirtha VDC, the local people raised dissatisfaction towards local government for ignoring the demand for homestead pipe water access. A socially acclaimed individual proposed on submitting an application addressing Nepal Engineering College to take lead to pressurize District Development Committee (DDC) for water management for this cluster. This was a bolt out of blue as the need was to proactively take initiative to pressurize local government to support household water management in the cluster and bypassing the local government and approaching directly to DDC could not be effective solution.

Upon discussion it came forward that the written application had been submitted to the VDC office however it was not registered as incoming application under the official formality. Meanwhile, the then VDC secretary got transferred and a current VDC secretary got appointed who was completely unaware about the application process. Moreover there was no follow up from the community after the submission of application making the process fail. After the meeting, the cluster is in the process to restart the water management process by submitting the application through women groups. This reprocessing if lack the dedication can again turn into failure, is something the people have understood and are in process to collect signature from individual households. But with individuals shifting the responsibility from one head to another, speaks for the possible reason of previous failure.  

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Water Problems in Sultanpur and Jhanjhrola Khera (Gurgaon) and the dominating picture of casteism and nepotism

My Experience in Sultanpur Village (Gurgaon)

Sultanpur is a peri-urban area situated on the outskirts of Gurgaon city. It is about 22 km away from the Gurgaon city. The Sultanpur National Park is just adjacent to the Sultanpur village. The village though seems to be a small one, but it covers an area of 4,387 acre. The total population is approximately 10,000 of which 2,200 are legal voters. There are about 650 household in the village. Of the total area of the village, only 4,011 acre is cultivable and the rest 376 acre is uncultivated. The rest 376 acre is only used for human settlement. That is why the village seems to be congested. (based on secondary data collected from government offices)

Water problems in Sultanpur

People of Sultanpur seem to be quite self-sufficient in all their basic day to day necessities, except one – water. I have gone to their houses and introduced myself that I am from SaciWATERs, and was there to gauge their water problems. I usually received a a warm welcome as they thought I was there to solve their utmost problems of water crisis.

The village area where the main human settlement is based is located in an uneven area. Some households are situated in an elevated terrain whereas the others are in low lying area. The water supply does not usually reach households in the elevated terrain. While the rich villagers use motor to draw water to the elevated as well as low lying areas, the poor who cannot afford having a motor receive no water for weeks together. Fetching water from the barma (hand-pump) is a regular chore for some villagers, especially the poor. In one day they make 15-20 trips to the barma to fetch water. They have to stand in a long queue everyday for about 15-30 minutes for each turn. Some rich villagers also fetch water from the barma because they don’t like the taste of the supplied water and for many other reasons.

Sultanpur village is bisected into two parts by a railway line. One part of the village receives regular water supply and the other part has no water supply connection at all, because the government did not grant permission to dig water pipes below the railway lines to the other part.

The villagers who reside in that part usually fetch water from the community hand-pump or have their own personal hand-pumps. According to the villagers, that particular area has ‘sweet’ water. Some villagers from the part which receives water supply also fetch water from those hand-pumps for this reason.

The frequency of water supply in Sultanpur is very low. Water is usually supplied on every third day for just 15-30 minutes. In those few minutes of water supply, if the rich villagers pump water with motors, the poorer sections residing in the elevated terrain and in the outskirts receive no water at all.

There are many communities in Sultanpur village. The main dominant caste is Rajput. Out of 101 households that I have surveyed in Sultanpur, about 40 of them were Rajputs. Balmik, Harijan and Bawaria are the most marginalized and needy groups in the village.The other communities in Sultanpur are Pandit, Nai, Saini, and Kumbhaar.

The Sarpanch’s role towards water problems in Sultanpur: The Sarpanch of Sultanpur, Sushilji showed high enthusiasm towards water issues. He helped us in organizing the stakeholders meeting in the village and in many other ways. But according to the villagers, he had dug a big pipe which led water to his house and its vicinity and thereby received regular water supply. There are some areas in the village which do not get water for years together. According to the Harijan community, they are devoid of many facilities and they could not raise voice against it because they belong to a lower caste. Even the Sarpanch overlooks their issues and needs.

According to the villagers there is a kind of politics in the distribution of ration-card and BPL card. The Sarpanch distributes the cards not according to their needs but on the basis of their support to him. He distributes them to only those villagers who supported him during his election. Since, he is an elected representative he should be impartial in his conduct. However, this is not the case.

Balmik Community’s Words: When I heard the plight of the Balmik community, I was really shattered. They were not given proper treatment by the fellow rich villagers (upper caste communities Rajput and Pandit). 

According to the Rajputs, the land where the Balmiks are staying was gifted by the Rajputs long time back. So, the Balmiks are not allowed to sell their land but can only stay there.

According to the Balmiks their children are also not allowed to sit together with fellow Rajputs in the village school, and are made to sit in a separate corner because they belong to a ‘lower caste’. The Balmik children are also not allowed to drink the water from same matka (water reservoir) because if they do so the water might become ashuddha (impure).

Casteism prevails in the use of village hand-pumps too. If a Balmik lady fetches water from the hand-pump before a Rajput lady then the Rajput lady would wash the mouth of the hand-pump with mud or sand. Then only she would fill her bucket or matka .

No Sarpanch or Panchayat members visit those houses except during the time of election. Because if they do so they might become ‘ashuddha’ .But why they don’t become ‘ashuddha’ when they go for begging their votes before the Election Day would be a mystery to an outsider? But this is the social reality of the so called ‘Indian Democracy’.

 Happiest moment in Sultanpur Village: One day I was doing a survey in one of the households. It was a cloudy day. Suddenly, it started pouring. It was not a heavy rainfall. I was somehow managing to carry on with the questionnaire in the courtyard. The respondent was the grandmother of the household surrounded by her grandchildren. One of her grandchildren (6-7 years of age) was insisting her grandma that since it was raining I may be allowed entry inside their house. But her grandma paid no heed to what she said. She then herself went inside the house and brought an umbrella and was holding it for me to carry out my questionnaire. I was really delighted at the act of that small girl. That girl was from a Harijan family. I felt the act of the girl reflected her good upbringing and refined manners of the household.

It is without doubt that the poorer section of the village is reeling under crisis of water shortage, casteism and nepotism. The political class has failed in pursuit of a more egalitarian society. But that they have survived these adversities is a proof of gleaming hopes for redemption.                    
My Experience in Jhanjhrola Khera

Jhanjhrola Khera is a village just next to Sultanpur.It is about 27km away from the Gurgaon City. Jhanjhrola Khera (JK) is closer to Farukhnagar town. The village is larger than Sultanpur in area. It is again subdivided into two parts- Khera and Jhanjhrola. The total households in JK is about 650-670.The houses in JK are sparsely located unlike Sultanpur which is congested.

Water problems in JK: The main problem in JK is of quality but not of quantity of water. JK is self sufficient in supplied water. Except few lanes in Jhanjhrola, which is in an elevated terrain, water reaches every household in JK. Some villagers in elevated terrain also draw water using hand-pumps. But according to the villagers, the water supplied to them is not good for consumption. It contains some unwanted particles, germs, microbes etc. Germs cannot be removed even after two to three times of filtration. People generally suffer from allergy by taking bath with this supplied water.

The water booster plant in JK is situated in a low lying area. The location is exactly inside the cremation ground. Since Jhanjhrola is at an elevated terrain, the frequency of flow of water to Jhanjhrola is low. People of Jhanjhrola need to pump water using hand-pumps, otherwise the pressure of water flow is very low. Water flows to Khera easily because Khera and the water booster plant are at the same level.
JK receives water for about 90-120 minutes every morning. During those 90-120 minutes of water supply the villagers store sufficient quantity of water for their entire household requirement.

Social Scenario in JK: The social scenario in JK is little different from that of Sultanpur. Casteism is not so prevalent. Women are not under the veil. Women of JK do nrespect the senior members of the village but not by putting themselves under the veil every time. Women here are given equal status and can speak equally in a meeting or a public gathering.

Children are also allowed to sit together in the same classroom. There is no caste-based partition in the school among students. Out of the 50 households that I have surveyed in JK, there were Rajput, Jat, Yadav, Pandit, Harijan and Balmik communities. But I have never come across a community speaking about any ill treatment to them by another dominant community.

But the social scenario of JK has been deteriorating after the people started selling their lands to Reliance. In 2009 many villagers of JK sold their lands to Reliance at the rate of Rs 22, 00,000 per acre. From then on many villagers became very rich and powerful. Money became the sole factor in all the decision-making process in the village. Consuming liquor became a daily activity of the villagers. With liquor, many criminal and anti-social activities started mushrooming. Many students from those families even left schools for nothing. Social values have been depreciated by the money factor.

Sarpanch’s role in JK: Though the Sarpanch of JK is a lady, the entire official work is done by her husband only. People of JK have little contact with the lady. People neither like the lady Sarpanch nor her husband. No villager can go directly to meet the lady for an official work. They need a prior permission from her husband. After the Sarpanch’s husband grants them permission then only they can go but they should be accompanied by a Panch member.
While the whole world is fighting for women empowerment and have done a good progress in this field. Even in Indian Parliament there is a debate going on for 33% reservation for women. But the lady Sarpanch is not allowed to affix her signature without her husband’s permission. In fact she did not even come to the stakeholders meeting organized in JK by SaciWATERs. The S.D.E, B.D.O, and many government officials conceded to our invitation and came to the village. But the Sarpanch did not come from her house to the meeting which was just at a distance of 250 meters. I was really worried at her act. If she could not come to the meeting organized in their village school, what can the villagers expect from her in the name of village development?

According to a Kumbhaar household, the Sarpanch or any higher authority does not pay any heed to their needs and requirements. They are overlooked in all the facilities of development. The area near the Mandir (Temple) where they stay seems to be an isolated region  isolated from all the basic necessities required for development of a region. They are kept aloof from the main village. According to the Kumbhaar, he has been trying to get his son’s birth certificate- who is 8 years old now and yet does not have a birth certificate. Whenever one goes to the Sarpanch he/she is asked to come later. He has been denied the certificate for the last 8 years. For this act of autocracy we can’t blame the lady Sarpanch alone. The Sarpanch preceding her is equally to blame.

The over-all development of a village depends on social awareness and political activism. While social awareness ensures the strengthening of social fabric, a proactive political class is extremely vital in implementing government policies. The case of JK village is a pointer to, how despite an elected position can be redundant if the person him/herself is not aware of the powers that come with the position.

The Questionnaire and the Survey: challenges encountered and problems faced

Carrying out the survey with the supplied questionnaire became an interesting activity for me as time elapsed. But at the beginning it seemed to be a challenging task, because everything was new and unfamiliar to me in both Sultanpur and JK. I had a problem of communicating with them, our language being different. The respondents were averse to the issue and had to be nudged to elicit response. Frankly speaking, at the beginning, I found many difficulties in coping up with their regional dialect. . Sometimes the respondent wouldn’t understand the Hindi I spoke and vice-versa which ultimately lead us nowhere except staring at each other and trying to grasp the gestures he/she made.

When I started my survey in Sultanpur I selected the households randomly. But after I got an idea about the distribution of castes in different locations, I tried to diversify my survey on the basis of caste. So, I did the survey based on caste-selection during the remaining period. The number of Rajput respondents is larger in both the villages, which was quite obvious because in both the villages Rajput is the dominant caste (in terms of population).
Among the 101 households that I have surveyed in Sultanpur the distribution of caste is as follows:

No. Of Households

(This table does not give the value of 101 households because the first set of questionnaire which I have submitted to Sambodhi were left to make a note of the caste)
Of the 53 households in JK the distribution of caste is as follows:

No. of Households

In these two months of field survey in Sultanpur and JK I had a great experience, and learned many new things. Though I had a bad experience of being bitten by a dog, which made me bed ridden for one-week, that experience seems trivial in light of the ideas and knowledge that I have gained from this field survey. First of all, the issues of water in peri-urban area can be seen from different perspectives of vulnerability, accessibility etc. Culture, tradition and life-styles of those villages were interesting to note, I learned how water crisis affects the crop productivity. Salinity of water is negatively correlated to production of vegetables. 

It was a learning experience: one needs to adapt a different approach with people of different background.
From the survey in the two villages’ viz. Sultanpur and JK, it can be said that Balmik and Bawaria are the most vulnerable groups in Sultanpur, whereas Balmik and Kumbhaar are the most vulnerable groups in JK.
Since I am from Assam the water issues in Assam and Haryana are different. In Assam water creates problem to the villagers. Every year thousands of people are rendered homeless due to flood. Flood washes away the paddy fields; many farmers even face famine like situation. But here in Sultanpur and JK, people face problem due to water shortage. The irregularity or scarcity of monsoon rains is the main reason of low productivity of monsoon crops. The ground water level is about 40-50 in JK and Sultanpur. So, rain water easily percolates to the lower level of the ground.                                     
                                                                                                                              Anjan Chamuah,
                                                                         IIT Guwahati
                                                                                                   Student Intern (Gurgaon), SaciWATERs