As a tribal woman, Nitu Chakhia has spent far too many years of her life struggling for survival in the urban jungle of Bhubaneswar. Several years of working with her people has convinced her that communities coming together ensures change. In this interview she describes how she changed the lives of hundreds of women in Padmakesarpur Village, by ensuring that 7 hand-pumps were fixed.
We never know the worth of water till the well is dry ~ Thomas Fuller
The government of Odisha guarantees to its citizens continued equal access to adequate potable water via the National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRWDP) since April 2009. While it acknowledges that the water supply systems set in place need to be upgraded on a regular basis, the means of monitoring are often limited. Such was the case in Padmakesaripur village in Khordha, Odisha, till Nitu teamed up with IndiaUnheard to help bridge the gaps between the bourgeoisie and the bureaucrats.
Padmakesaripur village had seven hand pumps in the village and one on the outskirts. As time went by, each of the hand-pumps slowly stopped functioning, till finally in early 2013, the villagers found that the sole hand-pump that remained was the one outside the village. The community closest to the lone hand-pump was initially happy to share water with the rest of the village assuming that the broken hand-pumps would soon be fixed. However, five months went by, and a population of almost 2500 pumping away at a single source of water soon began to take its toll on tempers. Arguments began to flare up, and the ones who suffered the worst were the women, who trudged far from their homes to lug litres of water home to be able to cook, clean & keep house.
When Nitu first heard about this situation, she brought the community together for a Baithak (Community Meeting).“I’d made a few videos by then, and had realized that if decisions are made unanimously by communities, the way forward is relatively easy. At the Baithak, I simply facilitated this discussion. They told me they had complained to the Village Head, who did nothing. I then explained to them about IndiaUnheard, and showed them my camera, telling them that I would help them. They were pretty unconvinced. After all, their own Panch (Village Head) didn’t really seem to care if they had access to water. I then showed them footage from the Shikharchandi Road story. By then, the Impact process there had already begun, so I told them how I had gone up to officials & asked them to do their duty, and would do so now as well.”
Nitu’s prior participation in politics re-establishes her innate faith in the government. She first told the villagers about their government’s commitment to ensure water for all. Emboldened with awareness, some women went with Nitu to the Panch, who didn’t seem too interested that his people had no water. Nitu then went to the Block Development Office (BDO) office with two local women, and told him of the situation. They also submitted an application stating that the hand-pumps needed to be fixed. “I asked him for an interview, to get on camera that I had met him. He refused, stating official reasons. He was very helpful though because he explained to me the shortcomings in administration. Their work was limited immensely because they had only one vehicle to transport field officers for surveys. He also promised us that the hand-pumps would be fixed in a month.”
One month after the meeting with the BDO, some of the local women visited him again, to remind him of his promise. Seven hand-pumps were fixed a few days later. “I think the best part of working on this Impact was how inspired the women were. I remember they exclaimed how the mainstream media had come, but had not bothered to follow up, whereas I, a single woman with a tiny camera had managed to bring so much happiness and peace to a village of 2500 people. It makes me very proud when communities are inspired to stand by me. It’s a different kind of delirium!”
Interview compiled by: Radhika