[Reader-list] Posting # 3

lalit batra lalitbatra77 at yahoo.co.in
Sat Jul 3 16:54:57 IST 2004

Water on the Banks of Yamuna

The banks of river Yamuna in Delhi were home to one of the largest slum
sprawls in the country just about five months ago. But now most of it
resembles a bombed out zone marked by a deafening silence emanating from
the rubble lying all around. Still there are a few patches of jhuggie
jhopries left, especially on the eastern side of the river, which have
been spared, at least for now, the fruits of ‘development’. 

A few weeks back I just thought of visiting one of these remaining bastis
and talk to people regarding their experience with water in Pushta as well
as their native place. The basti I went to is called Yamuna Pushta Renny
well no. 8 basti and inhabited mostly by kabaris and waste pickers. I
interviewed three Muslim families all of whom were from Arariya and
Kishanganj districts of Northeastern Bihar. I asked each one of them
separately about the sources of water and the social framework in which
access to water used to happen in their native villages. The response of
all the three families was fairly similar to each other.

What I gathered from them was that earthen well or Inara was the main
source of water in their villages till about 15-20 years ago. There were
mainly four communities in their villages- Upper castes, Lower castes,
Muslims and Dalits. Each of these communities had their separate Inaras
and sharing Inaras was non-existent especially between Upper castes and
other castes and Dalits and other castes. Social segregation and casteism
were quite rampant in other walks of life as well. While Inaras had a
caste based exclusivity attached to them, river and pokhars (ponds) were
theoretically open to use by all, though in practice powerful people,
almost all of whom belonged to the upper castes, exercised greater right
over these as well. Shambula of Jokihaat village in Arariya district
recounts how their village was subject to heavy rainfalls resulting in
floods every year. Also, the river used to change its course frequently
causing massive damage to lives and livelihoods of people. She says that
sometimes it used to rain continuously for 3-4 days due to which poor
people were unable to access firewood and thus had to go hungry. But
bathing, swimming and washing at the river was fun. Handpumps, according
to Shambula, started making appearance about 20 years back. She is not
sure why and how it happened but considers HPs much more convenient than
wells. Also less dangerous. This is a sentiment shared by both Riyazuddeen
of Kishanganj and Md. Alam of Arariya as well. 

Shambula and her husband Fakir Md. came to live in Pushta around 16-17
years back. Other than lack of opportunities available in the village, the
crippling rainfalls and frequent mood swings of the river in their area
also played a role in pushing them out of the village. Used to easy
availability of water, Shambula was shocked to find that in Delhi getting
water was a Herculean task. There were just two handpumps in the basti and
the quality of water was very bad. But there was no option other than
using this water for all purposes. What she found particularly annoying
was that she had to fight with other people every time she used to go to
the HP. And then all those diseases associated with water. “Gaon ka paani
to bhaiya sehat banata hai, shehar ka paani khaali bimari lagata hai”.
Tired of waiting for tapped water supply, some people in the basti broke a
water pipe line going through the basti to the trans Yamuna area. This
water was “very good” and solved, to a large extent, the problem of
drinking water. When I asked her whether this water is better than the one
they used to drink in the village, her reply was unambiguous “shehar ka
doodh, gaon ka paani barabar hai”. 

Slowly, over the years, the basti got a few ‘sarkari” water taps as well
but all of them are in the Hindu dominated area. Also, even these taps do
not supply as good water as they get from the tap they fixed after
breaking the main pipeline.

Living on the bank of Yamuna had its own perils. Twice in 15 years they
had to face the fury of the river when their basti got flooded. But still
it was better than what they had to face in the village where flooding was
annual phenomenon. I asked her how Yamuna was when she came to live on its
bank 17 years back. Her answer was that it was a little less filthy and
stinking than it is now. Does Yamuna remind her of the river in her native
village? Yes, but only when it rains!                           

lalit batra

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