Sitting at the outskirts of Udaipur, Katara doesn’t seem like a typical Bollywood village. While walking in the village, we come across a retired professor who, during our intensely long conversation informs us amongst many things, that he doesn’t earn now and the expenses of the household are managed by the income of his daughter-in-law who sews. A small part of this money goes to an old woman who everyday, turns the water tank on, which supplies water through pipelines to 40-45 households out of 120 houses in the village. The woman who makes the journey to turn the water on and locks the doors of the compound at 7 pm talked about how since the pipeline water was unfit for drinking, people were taking water from tube wells. The water in the tube well though, was heavily chlorinated and caused many throat infections.
Those who could afford, come to the city to get treated; those who can’t, are treated by a local quack who has come from Haridwar.
The Nangarchi community, which traditionally plays Dhol, don’t get this water, neither do Prajapatis (potters) nor Meghwals (communities involved in skinning cattle). The other sources of water are wells, tube wells and three hand-pumps installed in the village. As the water from pipeline is not fit for drinking, those who can, have ROs installed, and those who can’t, have to walk outside the village to a tubewell to get the required amount of water. Some people get bottled water delivered to them, like the Anganwadi teacher. When we talked to the Nangarchis living on the periphery of the village, they said they didn’t want any conflict within the village and hence, their best option was to get water from the tube well. Cramped inside their small house were dogs and rabbits and children and men, water being used almost as a luxury even while drinking.
This stark difference in water usage points out to what we have understood with how caste gives access to water resources, even if the resource is community owned.
When we dug deeper, we were also made aware of the rural-urban conflict of the water in the village. Close by, in Tiger Hills, a place with resorts and restaurants and big Havelis, opposite which our Prime Minister got down from his helicopter to inaugurate Maharana Pratap Gaurav Kendra, water is supplied all 24 hours by the government while the village, barely 10 minute walk away, has to manage on its own. Some people in the village are apprehensive of the situation. We were told that in 2013, the Congress government at centre had plans to increase the accessibility of pipe lined water in the village but it had to be stopped as the Code of Conduct was implemented for elections. Thereafter, the current government paid no attention to it.
On our first visit to the village, brimming with excitement, we came across an old woman who said that she can’t drink water and was smelling of sour milk and sweat. She seemed to have some mental health issues. On talking to her, she revealed how she had lost the taste for food and couldn’t drink water. She wanted to die but God wouldn’t kill her. The water in her eyes (tears) was lost too and there was nothing that would bring it back. She hadn’t slept for four months and was in perpetual agony of a loss she could not properly articulate. As Janhvi (my co-fellow) offered her drinking water a few times, water shed from her own eyes. This is just one of the many ways how water connects people across boundaries. On our last day in the village, we met Sapna*, a Prajapati woman who carried two big metal pots of water on her head. After talking to her for some time, she said that she never had a chance to count the number of times she had to make this journey of bringing water from the tube well. She got it every time the family needed it.
Sapna had been working as a maid in a resort at Tiger Hills and would get a monthly salary of Rs. 3,000 but she had to leave the job as there was no one to take care of the house after her daughter got married and left. Managing expenses since then has been a little tighter.
The water in the village is reflective of so many things that only begin to reveal with the time spent. A 6-feet wide stream was flowing on the other end. It smelled and had plastic waste as well as rotting shrubs in it. Farmers claimed that this water came from the farms uphill where it had collected in the fields when Udaipur saw a heavy rainfall. The water that sustains is also the water that destroys. Much of the maize in the farms was lost due to heavy rains. People have to now rely on their other sources of income to pull through the year.
The water flows from farms and pipes and is drawn from wells and tube wells, and yet there is dearth of clean drinking water for villagers as well as for children in government day-boarding and residential schools.
The abundant water running from fields enters the village, and leaves. The water supply by the government doesn’t even reach the village while the water pipe lined by the community reaches less than 50% of the households. Some people in the community have invested in rainwater harvesting and are likely to inspire others to do so. The semi-urban village of Katara has still miles to go before potable water is accessible to everyone and before the Prajapati and Nangarchi women have to stop walking with heavy pots on their heads to fetch water from the tube wells in fields.
* Name changed to protect identity