Some regions in this country have been grossly misunderstood over time. Tomany Rajasthans harsh climatic conditions and the vast Thar desert hasmeant little else than hardships and distress. This may not be so damagingas long as it remains a public perception alone. But the trouble is that sucha flawed understanding of Rajasthan and its people has led to a long line ofmisguided interventions led by governments as well as developmentagencies.I am one of the recent converts to the group of people who hold thisremarkable community in high regard for their extraordinary sense oftogetherness and of the people of Rajasthan. Some suggest that perhaps itis the harsh geographical and climatic conditions that bring people togetherand bring about a co-operation with an understanding that co-operationcould ensure survival for all. The images here from Rajasthan’s Jaisalmerdistrict are an exploration into the meaning of ‘community’ in this region and‘attributes’ which make them brave all existential odds.Sambhaav Trust, a partner organization of Arghyam has been working in thisregion for over 5 years and this work has been facilitated by the enormousamount of good faith and respect that Sambhaav has established with thepeople here.
My first guide in the region- Rajasthan Roadways’ bus driver. People here exhibit a remarkablyhigh degree of understanding and interest about their water resources.
Jaisalmer City- The imposing structures in the background is the ramparts of Jaisalmer fortwhich houses a significant population. It receives the least rainfall in India, but in spite of this98.3% of its villages have access to water for all their requirements.
Girdwala Village- A typical landscape with settlements spread thin across the desert. Sanddunes often make villages inaccessible by motor.
Livestock (Cow, goat, sheep, camel) rearing is common in the region and forms an essentiallivelihood system here.
Isawal Village: Sand dunes have made the village inaccessible by motor at this time of the year(July,2011). A 200 year old well, situated on the paleo channel of Saraswati River has beenrevived by Sambhaav here. There were multiple attempts to revive the well, which even led toloss of lives during restoration.
Biprasar – Man drawing water from a beri. The herd in the background do not belong to him.This heard has arrived at this watering hole in Biprasar after walking a long distance as waterin available only here. For people here fetching water for any herd is as effortless as for theirown. They do not consider this act as anything extraordinary.
A caution board by the road side, Lava Village, Jaisalmer: A set of rules dictating the use andconduct of people around the water body in the background. The rules prohibit people fromdefecating or urinating around the water body.
A woman drawing water from a beri: The metal tub kept beside the pot is kept filled for theanimals to quench their thirst, again a provision in larger interest of the community. This villageis about 100 kms from Ramgadh very near to the India Pakistan border.
Indira Gandhi Canal – This project was started by the Government of India in 1958 to providewater to distant villages in the Thar desert of Rajasthan. The picture shows the condition ofirrigation channels under the project. This particular stretch of the canal was constructed in2005. People here say that a large portion of channels like this one have fallen in disuse withmany of them eroded and filled with sand.
Indira Gandhi Canal promised comfort and the promise of piped water along with a regularsupply. With the coming of this project communities stopped using their beris and tankas –water sources which they had been using since generations. But the canal did not serve forlong. Within a few years the canal started to supply brackish water in some places and nowater at all in other places. Now people truck water from as far as 100 kms away.
As the channels of the Indira Gandhi Canal started drying up in this region, the piplelines andcivil works were salvaged to build houses, animal shelters etc. The shelter in the picture ismade from salvaged pipes.
Chattar Singh (of Sambhaav) , with Anna one of the local champions who was instrumental ingetting the community together to work and revive their water harvesting systems in BiprasarTanda.
Biprasar, Tanda- This place has 25 beris which are collectively owned by12 villages aroundBiprasar. When Sambhaav began its work here five years back, only about 4 beris werefunctional. Today all 25 beris are functional and these together serve water demand of 12villages including their livestock. This case is a testimony of how work done by the communityin reviving its own structures impacts their lives.
A shepherd boy on a bright afternoon herding his stock to the beris for water, Biprasar- Thereis a belief here that work should not be approached as a burden. It is better served with arelaxed mind and persistent efforts. Sambhaav believes that for a social change to sprout fromwithin the community a great deal of patience, time and perseverance is required.
Women and children from Ratan Ka Gaon, a muslim settlement with 20 families- In this villageSambhaav did not work on water or the water structure. They focused on the issues that ledto the split in the community with a belief that work on the water structure will be taken up bythe community once it united.
Shila/Stupa – A closer understanding of geography, geology, weather and climatic patterns isalso essential in order to plan restoration of water bodies. The structure in the picture is calleda shila . Usually located on a high ground (at an elevation) shila serves the purpose ofreconnaissance of a large geographical area and also as an observation post. It is consideredsacred.
Koriyon Ka Gaon - Lack of water made people migrate from their village sometimestemporarily and in some cases permanently. Sambhaav’s work has helped in reversal of thistrend in the villages where they have worked. In this village water is no more a reason for
Bheelon ka Gaon – The settlement in the distance is of bheel community. The people hereworked as casual laborers and often survived on alms. Although they received a huge landgrant (allocated by the government to native tribes), they didn’t have adequate resources tofarm it and draw benefit from it. This year the community has harvested a produce worthRupees 50 lakhs. This turn around has happened over a period of 5 years.
Abhay Singh (right), Sherawa Village –This year, the community for the first time has cometogether (July 2011) to work on their khadeins as they have seen many of their neighboringvillages and villages as far as 100 kms from Ramgadh benefiting from their collective efforts inrestoration of water structures.
Dherasar Khadein - This khadein is one of the oldest in the region. The embankments for thiskhadein was built over 500 years ago by Pali brahmins. It had broken embankments and hadfallen in disuse. There was no initiative from community to repair the embankment. In thepicture, to the right is the new restored part of the embankment mended with new bricks. Thiswas undertaken with Sambhaav’s help.
Jaisalmer City - Earlier Gadisar lake met all the water requirement of the city. Today the wateris supplied from Indira Gandhi Canal. Gadisar lake is now used for recreational purpose. Thispicture with dense buildings reminds of a quote from ‘Aaj Bhi Kharein Hain Talab ‚ by AnupamMishra, ‚Earlier populations of a place was estimated by the number of water bodies and notthe number of people‛.