Thursday, December 8, 2011

Water – Then and Now (A Personal Note)

A very recent visit to my ancestral village in Bihar was much different from the numerous visits I have made in the past. As a child, I was never aware of the village water issues. Though, I was aware that water in the well dug inside our house was not fit for drinking. I also knew that a major section of the village fetched drinking water from a common well, popularly known as ‘Gopi saa ka kuaan’ – Gopi saa must have been name of a village elderly and ‘Kuaan’ is a Hindi word for well. Many days have passed, but I can still recall the taste of sweet water from this well. Going back to the household scenario, being a joint family, fetching water was indeed a day long ritual for my uncle and cousins residing in the village. Being a visitor and also because I was the youngest among my cousins, I was never asked to fetch water! Now when I see villagers residing in peri-urban villages of Gurgaon, fetching drinking water, I can easily connect with it, emotionally. A subtle difference is the backdrop. On one hand, where my ancestral village has predominantly ‘Kaccha’ houses, these peri-urban villages on the other hand, have newly made concrete houses. However, access to drinking water continues to be a problem. Out of the four villages selected for research, fetching drinking water is a daily activity in three villages. In Sultanpur, villagers walk down to common hand pumps beyond the railway line. In Jhanjhrola Khera, in addition to fetching water from common hand pumps, a vibrant tanker water economy also flourishes. In Budheda, people walk down to hand pumps adjacent to the Gurgaon Water Supply channel to fetch water.

The trip to my ancestral village provided many more insights. I realised that the village has a drinking water supply provided by the public health department. On enquiring about the water supply, I realised that the water supply was erratic and also unequally distributed. In fact, my uncle went on to say that government had wasted money in providing water, as the situation has not improved. He rues paying about Rs. 400 for getting a connection of the supplied water. This issue is prevalent in couple of research sites in Gurgaon as well. Another interesting insight was about the use of village waste water. During this trip, I realised that ponds that I had been seeing since my childhood days, were actually storage points for village waste water. Not just that, this water has been used by villager for growing numerous crops from past 20-25 years. Another uncle of mine, who also happens to be one of the prominent businessmen in the village, was surprised when I told him that consumption of crops grown using this water, could have negative health impacts! In Gurgaon, we come across this aspect in Budheda and Sadhraana.

In short, what I realised during this short visit to my village, was that I had been living in oblivion so far. I also realised that conducting research on water issues has made me more open and aware of my surroundings. It is only because of my current professional and academic tuning that I have become capable of not just identifying these issues but also to look for pragmatic solutions!

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