Since March 2020 the Covid pandemic has created great misery around the country, whether due to repeated lockdowns or the havoc wreaked by the second wave in May last year. However, during this dark period there were also some positive stories to tell.
One of them is from Danavav village, situated in the foothills of Mount Abu, in Sirohi district of Rajasthan. Here, around 40 women tribal farmers ended the village’s age-old drinking water problem during the lockdown. These women farmers have dug ‘beris’ or small natural water tanks at different places in the village. This has provided drinking water to at least 500 people of the village.
One of these women farmers is Kamala Bai. She is an ordinary tribal farmer living in Danavav and the owner of two bighas of agricultural land, that is dependent on the monsoon for growing crops. The 45-year-old farmer works as part of the MGNREGA scheme most of the year, besides farming and taking her 8 goats to the forest for grazing. Kamala has been doing all this since childhood, but she is now very happy to join the campaign to end the problem of water in Danavav.
70 percent of the population in Danavav village belongs to the Bhil tribal communities. The total population is around 600. Most of the tribals depend on rain for agriculture and when farming is not possible they work in MGNREGA for the rest of the year. Most of the youth work in the hotels of Mount Abu.
How did it start ?
The initiative started when Jan Chetna Sansthan, an NGO working in the Mount Abu area, began distributing food ration to the tribal farmers of the area during the lockdown in April 2020. But these women farmers of Danavav village refused to take any free ration.
As Kamala says, “ At that time we needed more work than ration. Because if we have work, we can buy ration. Secondly, there is no tradition of taking it for free in the tribal society. We are farmers and grow grains by working hard. Taking ration for free was not good for our self-esteem. That is why we demanded work from the people of Jan Chetna Sansthan. In return for work, they provided us ration.”
Chandrakanta Bairwa, associated with the Jan Chetna Sansthan in Mount Abu, tells us that when the people of the village asked for work instead of free ration, we got the idea of doing something that would help in the development of the village and solve the problems of the tribal community living here.
Another woman farmer from the village, Shanti Bai (43), says, “ We called a meeting of the gram sabha to determine the problems. Since the PESA Act is applicable in this area, the people of the village are allowed to approve local development works by convening a Gram Sabha before the Panchayat. All the problems of the village were discussed in the meeting and were to be fixed on a priority basis.
Following this discussion the biggest problem in the village identified was that of drinking water shortages. Women and adolescent girls had to walk three-four kilometers every day to fetch water. They had to go to the water source after crossing the forest and the Abu Road. This also made it unsafe. Many times there were accidents with teenagers on the highway.
Narmada Mundaba, a social worker in Danavav, says , “ This village is situated at the foothills of Mount Abu. In summer, there is a serious problem of drinking water in the nearby dhanis including Danavav. For water, the women had to cross the mountainous, bumpy and Mount Abu road and go for about 3 km, but this time the problem of water has not arisen due to digging of the beri. The villagers quenched their thirst and that of their cattle with water from these beris throughout the year. There was a shortfall of water only in the few months before the monsoon arrived, after which the problem was resolved normally. Thanks to the digging of the beris, a long-standing problem that had plagued the villagers was ended by some women farmers of the village with just a month’s hard work. ,
Narmada says, “ It was a little laborious, as for so many years no one had any idea of how to dig a beri. After the women started the campaign, the men of the village also helped with the digging.
What are beris ?
Beris are the easiest and best resource of water in mountainous areas. A large amount of water coming into the field after seeping from the hills gets stored inside the ground. Clean drinking water becomes available only after digging 2-3 feet of the ground for this accumulated water. The pit dug for water is called beri.
Chandrakanta says, “ When tribal women refused to take free food grains from us, we talked about giving them ration in exchange for some work, but the work should be such that the village and the community benefit. In this way, after holding a mutual meeting, these tribal women farmers decided that they would dig different beris for drinking water in Danavav village.”
In this way, three such water tanks were dug near the Neelkanth Mahadev temple on the foothill road. Out of this, one was dug to fill water for the women, the other for the men and the third for the cattle of the village. The fourth and fifth beri were excavated at the cremation ground of Rupanmata temple and Mukri Mata temple. Due to the formation of a beri at the cremation ground, drinking and bathing water has also been made available to the people who come here for the last rituals.
Manu Devi (45), another woman farmer from the village who was involved in the work of digging the beris, told us that a lot of ration was given by the institute in lieu of digging the tanks. This included 10 kg flour, 5 kg rice, 2 kg gram dal, 2 kg gram, toothpaste, soap, mustard oil and soybean.
Chandrakanta says that apart from distributing ration, the organization has also worked in this area on the concept of ‘cloth for work’. In this initiative, clothes were distributed to the villagers in exchange for work. The clothing kit included two rugs, mosquito nets, mats, clothes for men, women and children as well as clothes for winters. Since the tribals live in extreme poverty, such wages in return for work helps them a lot.
Madhav Sharma is a journalist based in Jaipur, Rajasthan