Celebrating Sheroes: Patriarchy no hurdle for these women fighting for improved sanitation, drinking water
When 35-year old Ganga Rajpoot from Chhatarpur in Madhya Pradesh first pitched the idea to revive a defunct pond in her village to address the severe water shortage, she not only had to fight patriarchy, but superstition. The residents had abandoned the pond due to an incident that happened decades ago and believed a tragedy could befall anyone who even tries to revive it.
But as the water crisis deepened, Rajpoot realised it was perhaps the only option that could alleviate the imminent crisis that the village faced. “It is better to die for water than superstition,” Ganga told villagers each time they objected. She formed a group of 25 women — Jal Sahelis — and with the support of a local NGO, cleaned and finally restored the pond.
Ahead of Women’s Day, the ministry of Jal Shakti has chosen some of these women achievers to award them with Swachh Sujal Shakti Samman (SSSS) for driving transformational change in their communities. Among them are women representatives, teachers, sarpanchs, ASHA and Anganwadi workers, village water and sanitation committee members who not only led the well-being of their families but of the entire village. They fought patriarchy, gender bias, and resistance from their own families to step outside their house to find solutions.
Just like Ganga, Gayatri Devi from Jaipur, Rajasthan, has been working to help women from around 15 villages around Sambhar Lake do rainwater harvesting. So is Sharda Devi from Lalitpur, Uttar Pradesh, who has been mobilising support to rejuvenate the local Barua River to address the water crisis in her village.
For Anita Chowdhary from Madhya Pradesh’s Chhindwar district, the decision to be part of the work was critical. She had seen the struggle for water that she and other women of her village faced. So, when the opportunity came to address the challenge, she did not hesitate before participating in the initiative.
Over the last two years, Chowdhary has been working to drive the implementation of the government’s Har Ghar Jal scheme in her village Garhmau. The village is now among the 48,000 villages of the country that has been certified with 100 per cent tap water connections to every household. Another awardee, K Asha from Thiruvallur in Tamil Nadu, ensures that there is no disruption in water supply and any leakage in tap water pipelines in her village is fixed immediately.
The awardees include Green Ambassadors, water warriors, Jal Sahelis, who have been collecting and segregating plastic waste, doing rainwater harvesting, collecting water charges for potable tap water, carrying out water testing and ensuring that potable water reaches every household. There are ‘Rani Mistris’ who construct toilets and ‘Swachhagrahis’ who engage in sanitation work apart from others who sensitise village residents about waste segregation.
The women have been at the forefront of implementing some of the large-scale government schemes across rural India, including Har Ghar Jal and Swachh Bharat.