Bhalukhol is a modest little Munda village of roughly 30 families. In this interview, Mamata Patra describes the daunting distances she travelled & diffident women she encountered as she claimed a community’s right to have easy access to potable water.
One evening in late June 2013, Community Correspondent Mamata Patra was on a social call to a friend’s home, when they described to her how the reticent tribal village depended on a dirty creek for their regular supply of water. Her curiosity piqued, Mamata made the long journey to Bhalukhol two days later accompanied by Anand, her husband, a veteran rights activist.
On reaching Bhalukhol, Mamata attempted to ask the women about their water sources, but soon realized none of them could speak in Odiya with her. She quickly found a translator and was able to get the details with his help. The creek that was this community’s sole source of water, was a dirty little rivulet high up on hilly terrain. The village well had dried up, and the village had made several appeals to the Block Development Office but hadn’t ever heard back from them. In their desperation, the villagers had wedged small pieces of brick into the dirt to pave a path to the creek. “My skin was crawling when I saw the water. It was full of frogspawn, and was filthy. I was very thirsty after the long climb, but didn’t have the stomach to drink any of that water.”
Trekking back the treacherous terrain was a rougher experience, and Mamata was convinced on her way down that the only way forward was to use her skills with a camera to claim rights for this community. She finished filming & immediately rang up the officials at the Rural Water Supply & Sanitation (RWSS) Department. The official explained to her that no work would be possible until after the monsoon as it would be impossible to drive the vehicle used to dig bore-wells. “Following the RWSS official’s response, I knew I had to take stronger action. I went to the Block Development Officer (BDO) Mr. Sudhakar Naik. I showed him the video on his laptop & he was incredibly impressed. He had already seen this situation, and had been told of the inability of the vehicle to reach the village during monsoon. However, when he saw my footage, he was deeply moved by the plight of the people & immediately called the engineer in charge & asked him to work out a way to bring water for the village.”
Within a month of screening this video to the BDO, the existing well in Bhalukhol was deepened, a cover was installed on the well, a hand-pump was installed & the families of Bhalukhol were able to access clean, potable water. In an attempt to share sources of water adequately, the community has dug a pit around the creek so animals can utilize it instead.
When asked what the best aspect of creating change in communities, Mamata’s reply was ready – “There has been an obvious change in the community’s attitude towards me & my work. While initially the women would refuse to speak to me, or would shy away from the camera, once they sensed my dedication to creating change, they began to finally trust me. When I returned to film the Impact, I found that the women had made an effort to learn Odiya, so they could communicate directly with me. Every time I go to their village, they force me to accept different fruits & food from their forests as a token of their gratitude. The very women, who were most afraid of me, are the ones who now guide others on how to give correct (sic) interviews.”
“As a Community Correspondent my credo is to create change for communities. However, conscientious administration & accepting communities are the ones who make it worth the hard work. There were well meaning individuals like my friend’s husband, Mr. Sahoo, who made it a point to bring this story to my notice, he knew I could help this community. There was another lady who guided us to the village when we got a little lost. What is most rewarding however, is when the community themselves embrace this change & claim their own rights. Now the people of Bhalukhol are waiting for the Electricity Department’s survey to take place, so they can claim electrical connections for their communities.”
Interview compiled by Radhika.