Dalits Face Torture, Their Drinking Water Contaminated With Shit In Parts Of Maharashtra

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Water scarcity has become one of the most complex conflicts in Maharashtra, where three individual stressors interact together to shape the conflict. The stressors can be understood as vertically-arranged layers.

The upper-most layer is ‘climate change‘, often perceived as an immediate cause. It plays a prominent role in the creation of water shortage. But, one needs to understand the other two layers as well—social stressors and gaps in policy—to understand the full extent of why water-based conflicts are becoming common.

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Understanding the complex relationship of the layers is a must because today, authorities have a tendency to cite climate change as a soft ‘excuse’ for acute or chronic environmental hazards. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar blamingnature’s fury” for the floods in Bihar is a recent example.

Social Stressors

This stressor forms the more hidden and rigid layer. Caste boundaries continue to form a very saddening reality in India and are more visible in rural areas. People belonging to historically marginalised castes have a separate neighborhood in villages, known as Harijan or Dalit vasti (settlement).

Water scarcity at the village level operates differently for people from Dalit communities. The so-called upper-caste neighbourhoods are ‘prioritised’ for supplying piped water in the village.

A woman collecting water from a pit from riverbed due to drought in Maharashtra (Drought, Profile). Last year, over 29,000 villages in Maharashtra were declared to be drought-stricken by the government. This is the second simultaneous year for the state to be facing drought. (Photo by Prashant Panjiar/The India Today Group/Getty Images)

During environmental stress, water sources for people from Dalit communities are more unreliable and subject to unavailability. Their difficulties intensify relatively more. To avoid fetching water from distant sources, polluted water is often consumed in such situations.

Drought affects everyone, but, the so-called lower-caste families are worst affected. This is so because they are the ones who mostly don’t own land, have limited water storage capacity, and lack resources to ‘purchase’ water from tanker suppliers or transport it from distant sources. They are the ones who are forced to stand last in the queue for tanker water supply.

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There are multiple registered atrocities agains Dalit communities in the name of ‘water-based conflicts’. Water sources are ‘owned‘ public structures by Savarnas, and people from Dalit communities are threatened in different ways if they try to access water or demand rights for water.

For example, Paranjpe et, al. (2007) who studied this conflict in the Konkan region of Maharashtra wrote about how sources of water used by people from Dalit communities are contaminated by putting human excreta.

Threats, torture, and violence faced by people from Dalit communities for accessing water have been a common occurrence. In villages like Vantakli, Kusumba, and Ghodka Rajauri, Dalit women were targetted, abused and assaulted badly while accessing water.

Cases show how Dalit people have been tortured through verbal abuse, blaming them, jealousy for the schemes they can avail, a ‘conspiracy’ within the village against them and brutal violence-all around water conflicts.

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Not only at the village and micro-level, but caste also drives private-sector lobbying and political connections. From the beginning, when Yashvantrao Chavan started the Maharashtra Sugar Cooperative movement, only 96-clan Maratha caste persons ruled the sugar lobby of Maharashtra.

Others were selectively not allowed to be part of this lobby. The lobby has a large network of cooperative banks, societies, farms, traders, police, and politicians. This lobby has played a major role in unequal water distribution at the macro-regional levels.

The Climate Change Layer

Climate change has been altering monsoon patterns and generating acute weather events (like flooding) and chronic weather conditions (like drought) in nearby geographic areas at the same time. The state of Maharashtra has witnessed both events this year parallelly.

One the one side, the Western Maharashtra region including Kolhapur, Satara, Sangli, and Pune have faced flash floods. While on the other side, districts like Beed, in the Marathwada region has been reeling under drought conditions.

For representation only.

Water scarcity has become a chronic condition for Maharashtra due to increasing air temperatures, delayed and irregular rainfall, and depletion of groundwater.

Gaps In Water-Related Policies And Implementation

The story of the globalised Indian society today tells us how the rich become richer and the poor become poorer.

The story repeats itself in case of the water policy too where unequal distribution of water has led to a shortage for economically vulnerable sections of society.

Several reasons cause this unequal distribution. Lobbying by sugar factories often helps them ‘steal’ the water resource.

The word ‘stealing’ here, is self-explanatory about the state of sugarcane production in Maharashtra. Sugar and sugarcane industries are owned or controlled by politicians and political representatives and have always received privileges.

Addressing The Problem

Urgent action to resolve water conflicts must consider the extent of the three stressors. Action must range from structural measures like systematic rainwater harvesting in the rainy season, water management at the regional level, to non-structural measures like identifying economic, social inequities as the root of the problem and also raising collective voice through pressure groups.

Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program

Featured Image For Representation Only.
This post is also a part of YKA's first user-run series, Water Wars, by Zeba Ahsan. Join the conversation by adding a post here.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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