By Neetole Mitra:
Research shows that a rural woman walks around 14,000 km on an average every year, to fetch water for her family. On an average, she spends between six to nine hours each day collecting water and transporting 30 to 40 litres on her head, often resulting in severe spinal problems and neck injuries. This dedicated business of sourcing water becomes the primary preoccupation for most women in rural India, limiting them from exploring beyond, to earn money, seek an education or simply spend more time with their children. But there’s a silver lining.
Where governing bodies have failed to help, women who until now had been the primary transporters of water, have gone a step further to solve the problem. A group of 20 women in Kalikavu village near the Malappuram district of Kerala, in an enthralling display of women power, have proved what it means to take matters into their own hands. Collaborating under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, these women have dug over 100 bore wells in as little time as one year to end water scarcity in this region often plagued by scanty rainfalls and perennial rivers running dry.
So, for those who think that physical labour is men’s domain, these women have categorically proved otherwise. “For the last three months, this work has been going on in different wards of the village. Even in places where people couldn’t find water and abandoned work, women have succeeded because of their unity and determination,” said Gram Panchayat President A. Jamila.
A task as herculean as this requires focus and unflinching dedication and the women of the area have put the woes of their community before everything else. What’s even more incredible is that these women have achieved this praise-worthy feat in the face of many adversities and without any help from the authorities.
“There are safety issues associated with this work. Sometimes problems arise during digging as there may be hard rocks. Some women have already faced injuries in hands and feet from sharp rock pieces. It will be helpful if the government can provide us some safety measures and also consider our wage increase,” said Anita P. one of the women collaborating on this project.
Not just in Kerala, such initiatives are gradually rising across the nation. More and more rural and tribal women are taking up tools to dig away their water woes. The courageous women of Langoti village in Khandwa district of Madhya Pradesh picked up shovels and hammers to dig a well on their own after the gram panchayat refused to help them. “Even the Sarpanch and other governing bodies refused. But we told them water is our destiny and we will get it,” says Mishri Bai one of the women. Digging a 20 feet deep well in just 40 days, these women not just solved the water crisis in the village but also put an end to the woes of Harijans in the area who had no access to water. Interestingly, at the first sighting of water, men finally offered to help, but the women preferred to complete the task on their own.
Help from local groups of women and government organisations would help reduce human efforts to source water. But in the meantime, these women have proved their might in the face of adversity, by being the change they seek. Their efforts will, in turn, improve basic hygiene and also enable them to dedicate their newfound free time to earn a livelihood and spend time with their families, instead of worrying about the dearth of something as basic and fundamental as water.