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Wide prevalence of stigmatization of rural Gujarat Dalits in accessing water

By Rajiv Shah 
A recent survey, jointly carried out by Navsarjan Trust and Pani Hak Rakshak Samiti, has found that the areas around Ahmedabad which the Gujarat government wants to project as the future model of development — by developing a special investment region and an automobile hub — are also stigmatized by untouchability practices.
The survey was done in five talukas of Ahmedabad district – Dholka, Dhandhuka, Sanand, Bavla and Viramgam. It has once again proved, if any proof was needed, about how untouchability is coming in the way of the rural Dalits’ failure to access water in the immediate neighbourhood at a time when drought-prone situation prevails in parts of Gujarat. The survey, carried out by Navsarjan Trust, Ahmedabad-based human rights organization, says that the situation is particularly acute as scarcity has been declared in 10 of Gujarat’s district. While 939 villages have been declared scarcity hit, another 2,979 have been declared semi-scarcity hit. “Dalit women have to particularly suffer, as they have to walk long distances in order to get water. They are unable to access water at the source nearby because of the continued prevalence of untouchability”, says a report prepared on the basis of the survey.
The survey identifies 1,200 families of the five talukas who have to particularly suffer because of untouchability in accessing water. “Untouchability prevails in accessing water at common bathing spots, public spots meant to wash clothes, community taps, private and pancyayat bores, handpumps, common village wells and ponds.” During the survey, volunteers of the Pani Hak Rakshak Samiti in association with the Navsarjan particularly found things in bad shape in state panchayats minister Buprendrasinh Chudasma’s assembly constituency, Dholka. “Despite the fact that the Dalit are the main victims of untouchablity, the government has done next to nothing to provide water through tankers to the Dalit areas”, the report complaints.
Particularly focusing on Dholka, the report says, in Dholi village, Dalit women are not allowed to access water to wash clothes for the last two decades. At Arnej village, no water has flown down the pipeline in the Dalit area for the last one decade. “As a result, women have to go to a well situated about a kilometer away, near the highway. Dalit women of the village are victim of untouchability at the common panchayat bore. A police complaint was filed in 2011”, the report says, adding, “In Javaraj village, every community has a separate well. Three years ago, a water body was dug up in the Dalit area, yet till date it has not seen water supply.” The situation was found to be not very different in Sargavda, Bhurkhi, Utelia, Koth and Piswada villages.
In Bavla taluka, Dalit valmiki women of Dahegamda are not allowed to access water from the common village well. In Bagodra village, Dalits are not allowed to use water from the panchayat bore. In Bhamsara village, Dalit households have to spend Rs 100 each month to get drinking water. In Dhandhuka taluka’s Bajarda village, Dalits were forced to spend money from their own pocket to get water connection for a common village sump. The water reaching the sump is unusable, yet the Dalits are forced to use it for their daily routine as there is they are not allowed to use the common village source.
In Sanand taluka’s Lodaria village, there is just one tap for 15 Dalit valmiki households, and as a result they cannot get enough water. In Lilapur village, the bore failed because the motor got burnt. The Dalits were forced to give collect Rs 22,000 to repair it. “The non-Dalits oppose construction of a new bore for the Dalits”, the report says. In Sari and Matoda villages, which are just 25 kilometres off Ahmedabad, Dalit valmiki women are not allowed to access water from the village well. In Viramgam taluka’s Vasveliya village, Dalit women are subjected to untouchablity when they go to fetch water from the village bore.
The survey comes close no the heels of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) having admitting a complaint about Dalits not being given access to Narmada water in villages of Jasdan taluka of Rajkot district. The complaint, which was made in mid-May 2013, followed reports of how upper caste farmers, who have their own borewells and do not need Narmada water as much, do not allow the Dalits to use the crucial source. The complaint to the NHRC was filed by Kirit Rathod of the Navsarjan Trust.
Reports said, in as many as 10 villages of Jasdan taluka, water sumps in Dalit areas were not being filled by Narmada water though there were constructed for supplying drinking water to Dalits under a special plan. Though they complained to state authorities about this, nothing happened. Dalit women have to walk three kilometers to get drinking water for their families. The affected villages are Chitaliya, Khadvavadi, Kanesara, Parevala, Jivapar, Nani Lakhavad, Kothi, Barvala and Devdhari. There are around 100 Dalit families in each village. Clearly, the water scarcity in Gujarat is due to deficient rainfall, but the calamity is man-made for the Dalits.
A recent study, “Stigmatization of Dalits in Access to Water and Sanitation in India”, by Hannah Johns, researcher, international advocacy, National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, said that though water is synonymous with life and therefore it is the most integral and inevitable part of each individual, “caste based discriminations leading to human rights violation regarding drinking water makes it an important social issue.” In India, the study says, “More than 20 per cent of Dalits do not have access to safe drinking water; 48.4 per cent of Dalit villages are denied access to water source ; and only 10 per cent of Dalit households have access to sanitation (as compared to 27 per cent for non-Dalit households).”
The study comments, “The vast majority of Dalits depend on the goodwill of upper-caste community members for access to water from public wells. Dalit women stand in separate queues near the bore well to fetch water till the non -Dalits finish fetching water. Dalits are disentitled and not allowed to use taps and wells located in non-Dalit area. Dalit Villages are not provided water for several days in case the Dalits resent to existing practices of discrimination.”
Pointing out that the struggle for water is simultaneously a struggle for power, the study says, “Though the Indian Constitution through Article 14 guarantees right to equality to every person irrespective of caste, creed, gender, status and religion, we are still faced with the power based hierarchal social setup coupled with problems of untouchability and discrimination.” It cites following figures to illustrate the differences between Dalits and non Dalits household in respect of drinking water: 27 per cent Dalit households have water sources within premises as compared to 45.2 per cent for the general populations; 19.50 per cent of Dalit households have access to drinking water sources away from their premises whereas it stands at 14.45 per cent for the general population.
Further, the study says, “32.2 per cent of Dalit households have access to drinking water from tap as compared to 40.1% for the general population. Regarding sanitation, 23.7 per cent of Dalit households have access to latrine facility as compared to 42.3 per cent for general households. Only 17 per cent of the tribal households have access to latrines which is well below the figure for general households (43.2 per cent). Poor quality of drinking water and lack of awareness about hygiene and improved sanitation are major sources of water borne diseases amongst tribal areas. The situations with regard to household connectivity for waste water outlet, the figures are 50.6 per cent for general households, 42.9 per cent for Dalit households and 21.8 per cent for ST households.”

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