(Charkha) - In most situations of water scarcity, it is women who have to bear the brunt, for the simple reason that, in our homes, making water available remains ultimately the responsibility of women, be it a matter of drawing it from house or village well or fetching it from miles away. This is true not only in the context of the rural women, but for women across the country. Moreover, it is indicative of the crucial role women play in the area of water management and of the difficulties they have to face while doing so.

Such is a case of the women of Dabia and Dagadkot, two villages in the predominantly Korku tribal area of Madhya Pradesh. Their efficiency and efforts proved to be milestone, when hundreds of hands voluntarily came forward for rejuvenating a pond. The long cherished dreams of villagers came true when rippling water six feet deep brought the pond back to life. Women who had their lives parched by a four-year long drought accomplished the rigorous task of deepening the pond in a matter of few months.

Khandwa district, popularly called Poorvi Nimad, has a historical significance because of the river Narmada and its archeological heritage. The area is also now known across the country because of the Narmada Sagar Dam. The drought that has been playing havoc in this area for last several years has not only parched the villages of the district, it had also started knocking at the boundaries of cities of the area. But just 50 kilometers away from Khandwa, these two villages had no trace of any distress even in the face of such a terrible drought. Like all other villages of the area, Dabia and Dagadkot have a pond situated between them. For years, it had been the life line of these two villages. However, the traditional methods became extinct along the way, the pond went dry and the water crisis assumed alarming proportions.

Rampyaru, a resident of this village, recalls, “With the coming of phagun, we had to traverse long distances for fetching water and the blazing heat made our task immensely difficult. Domestic chores and fetching of water made it impossible for us to go out for work. Most of our time was spent in making water available to the family. We were falling prey to diseases because of exhaustion and weakness. With lack of enough material for subsistence, we had to seek wage labour. Our land lied unattended and it was also affecting adversely the education and health of our children. It was then that we brought our heads together to think how to cope up with this situation”.

It was the local women who took the initiative. They were members of the saving groups active here for several years. Primarily constituted for savings, these groups proved to be effective instruments in accomplishing this task as well. These women came to realize that unless the basic problems of the village were solved, it was futile to save money. Money can only be saved when one earns. They placed a proposal before the Gram Sabha to solve the water crisis by deepening the pond which now lay parched dry. The villagers did not take the proposal seriously and the Sarpanch also did not show much interest. But the women came together and decided to solve, what they considered their own problem, on their own.

However, the women were aware of the challenges; deepening a pond lying dry for years is an arduous task. The next big question was that of resources. It was decided that some part of the economic expenditure should be taken from Prasoon, an organization active in this area for last eight years, and the rest should be collected from the community itself. Prasoon had already agreed to provide its support.

The women of both the villages put in place some norms or rules to be followed during the deepening of the pond. They decided upon the number of working hours and also constituted a Monitoring Committee. It was agreed that one member of each family would receive wages for this work and the rest would donate their labour. Those working would be provided drinking water at the site itself. In case of someone getting hurt or falling sick, the services of the nurse residing in the village would be taken. Thus, taking care of the basic requirements, the plan was finalized.

Initially, only 40 labourers started the job. Despite, the ongoing discouragement of the villagers, the women remained undeterred. In fact, when the men folk were invited to work on the pond, they demanded higher wages, though they had to work as much only as the women were doing. It was only later that they agreed to work on equal wages.

The women began their work by digging and constructing an embankment. With progress in the work; the attitude of other villagers turned positive. Now, the Sarpanch proposed to help and provided a tractor for disposing off the earth dug out of the pond. Working indefatigably from March 2004 through the whole summer, the women deepened the pond. Now they just had to wait for the rain god. He arrived and generously filled the pond.

Since then, the reconstruction of a pond 290 feet long, 130 feet wide and 9 feet deep, with the help of Prasoon and the resolve of the women of both the villages has become an illustrious example. Now similar initiatives have begun in villages such as Maujwadi and Chindoladeel, among others.

Today, the life-giving pond of Dagadkot and Dabia is not only fulfilling the domestic requirements of these villages. Apart from quenching the thirst of the cattle stock, it is also being used for irrigating 4-7 acres of fields adjacent to it.