A group of 250 women from a village of Angrotha in MP, have spent the last 18 months painstakingly digging through a hill. Struggling with water shortage for some time, they’ve been trying to build a path for the water to reach the village pond.
“We have been working for over 18 months to channel into the village, the water that used to freely flow in the forest and thus could not be used,” a local woman, Babita Rajput, told ANI. “So, the women in the village formed a group and it was decided to cut the hill to a length of about half kilometers and make way for the water to fall into a pond in the village.”
Another woman from the village, Vivitabai Adivasi asserted that this needed to be done, so the woman took it upon themselves.”We are doing this for ourselves. There is water shortage here. We are unable to farm and our livestock was also suffering. About 250 women dug a way for water to flow into the pond in our village. It took us about 18 months to complete this work.”
Another villager Ram Ratan Singh Rajput said, “For the past 18 months, the women here have decided to provide water to our village Angrotha. They have cut a hill and made a waterway. The women are also working on removing several stones that are present in the path of the water flow.”
Where Are The Men And Why Are They Not Helping The Women?
If the answer is “at work”, then the subsequent question would be, why aren’t the women?
Women in rural areas tend to be primarily involved in unpaid labour, to a much larger degree than their counterparts in urban settings.
When it comes to paid labour, there has been an increasing “feminisation of agriculture” where the number of female agricultural labourers in India rose by 24% between 2001 and 2011. But this is not to be celebrated.
Ishita Mehrotra, assistant professor at Ambedkar University, says that farm jobs keep women confined to “low paid, insecure and oppressive labour relations”. The agricultural work indicates “a patriarchal ideology and a socio-cultural value system” that keeps women tethered to the village and “consumed with domestic work”. The men, perceived as more skilled, more educated, and allowed to migrate for economic and social purposes, take up higher-paying non-farming opportunities.
The women in villages are bound to low paying, erratic work, unpaid care work at home, and unpaid – and unaided by the higher-skilled men – labour, like 18 months of digging through a hill to solve the village’s water shortage problem. There is nothing wrong with a community taking its matters into its own hands, but it can become problematic if the primary burden of this work is falling on one gender.
The Water Crisis In These Villages Has Worsened Severely During The Lockdown
Several villages in India have been water starved for many years. The water crisis in these villages isn’t new, but has exacerbated to severe extremes during the lockdown.
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Neemu Khan, a resident of Badnawa Charanan village in Rajasthan told The Wire back in May, “There is no source of water in our village. That includes 50 hamlets – neither a hand pump nor a water supply point.”
“To meet our needs, we have to pay Rs 1,200 for one water tanker. Due to the lockdown, our livelihoods have been severely affected. The daily wage workers are the worst hit. How on earth are we expected to pay for water when we have lost all our sources of livelihood?” he asks.
Several villages like Neemu’s don’t have a water supply point. As the villages dry up, most are resorting to drinking unsafe water or illegal means of acquiring it, like breaking the pipelines in tankers.
The perseverance and hard work put in by the women of Angrotha is astonishing and inspiring then, but highlights a terribly severe underlying issue.
Their taking on the 18-month challenge of finding a solution to the village’s crisis is an example of the pool of strength and capabilities women possess, despite everything society continues to tell them. It is also however an example of the stark inequalities in gender roles that continue to exist during a crisis, and depravity in the availability of a pool of water in these water-starved lands.
If you would like to help communities deprived of water have better access to it, you can visit these sites.
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