There were villagers around who would ask, ‘Shramdaan? We have nothing of that sort happening here.’ The same people eventually came together, armed with shovels and pickaxes to fight the threat of drought and a revolutionary model of development was born. In the summer of 2016, the Satyamev Jayate Water Cup competition proved to be a groundbreaking initiative in 116 villages, across three districts of Maharashtra.
If you ever want to witness how the metamorphosis of an entire village can happen over merely 45 days, pay a visit to Radi Tanda, Khapartone, Patoda, Kumbephal, Kolkanadi or Shepwadi. We are frequently asked what Paani Foundation offered to these villages and we proudly say, it was a sense of identity and confidence. My friend Dilip Mote always says that the best gift is the gift of confidence and support. That’s exactly what Paani Foundation brought to the villages. An assurance that said, ‘Go ahead, brothers, do your best and everything will be fine.’
In the Indian mythological tale of Hanuman, it was Jambuvant who gave him the confidence to cross the ocean alone and that helped him reach Lanka to find Sita. Give someone wings of confidence, and they can achieve tasks seemingly impossible. During the Water Cup competition, approximately 4,203 villagers completed work worth Rs. 1 crore in 45 days, just in Ambajogai taluka. Sounds impossible? Let me tell you how.
4,203 villagers from 34 villages worked for two hours on an average, for 45 days continuously. With the per day rate for physical labour being Rs. 191, the total amount comes close to more than Rs. 91 lakhs, even with 1/4th of the work day taken under consideration. That’s simply unparalleled.
What’s also commendable is the tremendous and relentless support offered by the Samast Mahajan Group, Jnana Prabodhini and the Jalayukt Shivar Abhiyan. Girish Shah of Samast Mahajan Group says, “This is a ritual that demands everybody’s sacrifice; the contribution of time and sweat. And no matter what, in the end, we shall be triumphant.”
Another important fact was reinforced during those days. A good deed and a noble thought always finds helping hands from thousand directions. In the course of the competition, physical structures worth 13 crores were completed through donations in Ambajogai taluka and have helped in creating a water storage capacity of crores of litres.
The first showers of this monsoon arrived recently and everybody from the village rushed to the rivers and streams, eager to see the fruits of their toiling of months. The water too, as if to keep an unsaid promise, stayed where it fell and did not flow over beyond the village borders. One of the elders couldn’t control his emotions. He said, in a gleeful voice, “It rained a lot more than this last year. But our rivers couldn’t hold the water down. It has been years since we saw the water stay like this.” His words and the eyes beaming with satisfaction were simply priceless.
Prasad Dada spoke about the times when he had worked on the deepening of a river in Kolkanadi. No one would bother to find out who he was, what he was up to. But now everyone is aware. The Water Cup has created much awareness about conservation and the value of water. People now measure the rains in millimeters and discuss the amount of water conserved – the same people who would walk miles for water, carrying vessels, they’d wait for water tankers and curse others for their plight.
The primary goal of the Water Cup competition is to make Maharashtra drought-free, making watershed development a routine practice and creating awareness about water conservation. But it has also catalysed enormous socio-economic development:
- The youth is actively participating in community work.
- Farmers who felt helpless once are back on their feet and ready to take every challenge. Beed district, infamous for farmer suicides, has reported zero incidents of suicides in the duration of the competition, which is definitely more than a happy coincidence.
- The villagers and the administration have developed a stronger bond. The fact that top government officials of the region come down to the actual site and participate in manual labour is extremely inspiring for every villager.
- Gram Sabhas (meetings) are once again becoming the driving force for sustainable development.
- Women who had once united against alcoholism came back together for the sake of water conservation. Their contribution in every village was unrivalled.
- The smaller quarrels amongst neighbours pertaining to farm borders and other petty issues reduced considerably.
- The local police proudly spoke of notable reduction in crime rate during the days of the competition, which also allowed them to participate in the shramdaan activity.
- Members from various political parties kept aside their differences and joined this social cause along with the villagers.
- It was a whole new feeling to be noticed by media, and to see yourself and your village on television as well as be appreciated by the whole country. Locals turned into heroes through this competition.
- Those who had moved to cities for better prospects got back to their roots on this occasion. People contributed in whatever form possible, from physical labour to funds and much more.
- The physical labour resulted in better health for everyone involved.
- People realised that the onus of watershed management lies with them, and they must do everything in their capacity to see it through.
- What started with a competition has now turned into an ongoing celebration for a better future.
Our friend Bapu Patil from Dhanora says, “Water was our big reward but so was it a lesson. We realised that no matter how dire the adversity, all it takes is the first step. Once we take that, the whole village joins you in the effort.”
This is proof that the Satyamev Jayate Water Cup competition transcended to a different level. It went from being a watershed development competition to an initiative that builds, augments and strengthens the minds, of individuals as well as collectives.
By – The writer, Irfan Shaikh, was Paani Foundation’s taluka co-ordinator from Beed district in Maharashtra. To watch ‘The Battle Against Drought,’ a documentary about the journey, visit www.paanifoundation.in
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