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Why water management 'isn't just about' conservation but also gender bias

Counterview Desk 

A note prepared by Mansee Bal Bhargava and Garbhit Naik* titled Water Fest ‘Be Like Water’ on a recently-concluded water festival did not just insist upon bringing more knowledge on water worries and wisdom towards water conservation and management. Held in Hyderabad under the banner of Wfor W Foundation, a not-for-profit network, it also focused on water, gender and women.
A highlight from the Fest was a discussion on why the role of women needs to be seen in the context of vulnerability and leadership and why there is “need for change in the manels in decision making for water matters”. It was highlighted, water problems are “mostly patriarchal” in nature, as there is “male dominance in decision making despite women being the epicentre of activities/ vulnerabilities related to water.”


Water management is people management and thus calls for collective action towards addressing the water worries through the abundance of wisdom available since antiquity. Any collective action is sustainable when there is trust and hope which can be built through continued communication and information sharing.
The WforW Foundation is a citizen collective built as a think tank that brings forth the information available on water matters through communication with water enthusiasts. The WforW is abbreviated from We.for.Water, Water.for.World, World.for.Water, Wisdom.for.Water, Worries.for.Water, Women.for.Water, Water.for.Women, and many more attributes of water and society. Through the online conversations namely, Wednesdays.for.Water, Friday.Waters (Water Talkies, Book Reading, Theses Club, Water Arts) and Monday Munching/Musing with Women.for.Water, various social-ecological-technological-institutional aspects embedded in water management and governance are discussed between scholars, policy makers, scientists, students, activists, authors, artists, filmmakers, etc.
Team WforW (led by Dr. Mansee Bal Bharagva) believes that water conversations are fundamental to moving towards water conservation. Also, that water has a connective capacity, so instead of working in silos, it is crucial to communicate between the concerned, the experts, the sectors, disciplines and regions. With a humble beginning in April’ 2021, the conversation series has completed over 100 sessions and connected with nearly 250 speakers, besides expanding to independent water activities with other organizations such as, workshops, seminars, special lectures, etc. A compilation of the conversation series is available here. Through the conversations, there is a genuine attempt to connect society and science besides pushing for conscience and common sense in order to move towards ‘Making Water Everybody's Business’ among ‘we the people’.
To continue the water conversations with the same rigor and respect, the WforW team planned a ‘Water Fest’ to rest and reflect upon the learning of the sharing by the speakers and the team who made this possible. The Water Fest was organized at Tata Institute of Social Science Hyderabad (TISS) Hyderabad on January 11-12, 2023. The theme of the Water Fest is, ‘be like water’ which manifests as, ‘we are flowing together like a river touching the banks of knowledge that each one of us holds.’ The two days Water Fest was organised to meet, greet, walk & talk, and importantly learn and share while having fun, in other words, flow with each other in time and space. Dr. Bibhu Prasad Nayak served as the Institutional Host from TISS Hyderabad. The Foundation for Ecological Security (FES) through Subrat Singh provided the funding support for organizing the Fest. The two days agenda was action packed.
The Fest kicked off with a quick lake cum reality walk at Hussainsagar Lake with Subba Rao and Mansee Bal Bhargava. All the participants arrived at the necklace road around the lake. Subba Rao introduced the lake with a brief history and later discussed how imposition of some public projects pose a threat to human health and later results into a disaster giving reference to the children’s park that is coming up right at the lake inlet. He mentioned how lakes are converted into ponds due to the introduction of the buffer policy describing a situation where the size of the lake is decreasing along with the ecological degradation, despite inflow of huge maintenance funds. It was unfortunate to notice excessive alien plant invasion such as Lantana Camara and Parthenium on the lake edge. Also, the lake periphery had terrestrial plantation instead of aquatic plantation which induced soil formation in the lake. The speakers later discussed gaps in planning and management of the land around urban lakes and the need to have the lakes emptied naturally once a year. Mansee mentioned about the contestation between the lake development and lake conservation and how political economy plays over political ecology.
The official session of day one started with inauguration by head of TISS Hyderabad, Prof. Aseem Prakash and felicitation the keynote speaker Aabid Surti. Aabid Surti, the Leakage Man of India and Founding Director of Drop-Dead Foundation emphasized the fact that to work for water conservation, we have to first understand the nature of water. He humorously stated that water is H2O for a teacher as Ramayana is a property dispute for an advocate. With reference to the study carried out by Jagdish Chandra Bose to find out whether trees have life or not, Masaru Emoto from Japan realized that water is also a life form with his crystal experiment in which water reacted differently to different emotional/mental conditions. He mentioned that “Every thought is precious, and so is every drop of water. If you believe this too then you realize soon that it encompasses everything.” He shared his story of how his upbringing on sidewalks of Mumbai made him sensitive towards every drop that leaked in his friends’ houses. Upon asking them why they don’t get it fixed he was presented with two problems. Firstly, plumbers don’t come for petty work and secondly, the sense of ignorance of not being affected. He has purposed his life to resolve both the issues by starting the initiative Drop Dead which repairs the leaking taps in every house. He’s able to manage this initiative single-handedly so far while saving more than 30 million liters of water. He concludes with,” If you do any social work with good intention then god will become your fundraiser.”
The day continued with Mansee exemplifying Aabid Surti through a famous quote by Rumi, “I’m a drop in the ocean and an ocean in a drop”.
There were four dialogue sessions in the two days. Dialogue 1 was about ‘Water in the Development Process’. Dr. Rajkumari Sunita Devi (coordinator), Sonia Gupta, Neha Sarwate discussed the issues and challenges in the future of water development. Sonia criticized the thought process involved in the development. Development is understood as an evolution of the built environment to make it more comfortable and easier. But the fact is development is undertaken with the sole purpose of economic benefit and this benefit comes at the cost of ecology. Ideology of hardcore engineering solutions for water systems does not support microorganisms hence there is a need to integrate people from different backgrounds to prepare bio-based solutions. Neha builds up the relationship of entire water cycle with land and how it is hampered today in the name of development. Sunita ends the session with a question for all if we can look at economic return which also supports betterment of the environment?
Dialogue 2 was about ‘Water from an Ecological Perspective’. Dr. Jayati Chourey (coordinator), Dr. Nivedita Sahu, Dr. Meganathan P R and Dr. Mamata Mohapatra discussed about developing nature-based solutions for waste water treatment and solutions to water contamination can end monocentric approach towards development. Meghanathan, Nivedita and Mamta presented their innovation in nature-based technologies such as air water generator that turn moisture to water, integrating bioreactors to treat wastewater and removal of contaminants from drinking water sources. Chandrashekharan J from Watsan, raised concerns on the missing link between academia and market and offered to create a marketable product from the technologies discussed in the session. Naveen from FES acknowledged the fact that when we talk about technology innovation, we must consider community stewardship because they are going to take it forward.
There were two Open House sessions in the two days for fun-filled interaction. In the Open House 1, Vidya Ramesh assisted by Harshita Sehgal planned out a game on the theme, “Rivers – A fresh look to Development”. They made the participants write (on stick-on papers) the names of rivers and streams and locate them. It was a mad rush to the big Map of India placed in the Hall to stick the names of the rivers.
The day one concluded with two interesting activities. A Documentary Film namely, ‘Mission Ahsaas’ about the success story of a community who restores their neighborhood lake which was once a dumping site in Kashmir. It was presented by director-producer Adbul Rashid Bhat. This was followed by a Pitching Session from four Collectives for membership drive. The International Water Association (IWA) was represented by Dr. Suresh Kumar Rohilla (from IWA Headquarter in London) and Jeyannathan Karunanithi; the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC) and its forthcoming XIX Biennial Conference was represented by Dr. Tobias Haller (from University of Bern, Switzerland); the Global Water Works (GWW) was represented by Mary Eggert; and the Women's Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (WICCI) was represented by Dr. Harbeen Arora and Dr. Ritu Singh.
The day two started with Neknampur Lake Walk with Madhulika Choudhary assisted by Garbhit Naik. The participants observed how bioremediation approach is helping maintain an urban lake that receives wastewater beyond its treatment capacity. Madhulika distributed the compost made from litter around the lake. The lake is also an example of how she muscled the social-ecological-institutional-technical systems to conserve and manage a lake of her neighborhood.
The official session of day one started with felicitation and introduction of the keynote speaker Phoolbasan Bai Yadav, referred to as ‘Didi’ by her acquaintances. Phoolbasan Didi, a Padma Shri, a social activist and Director of Maa Bamleshwari Janhitkari Samiti, motivated everyone with her journey of 2 handful rice and 2 rupees that has earned her the largest women network in the world that works on water, health, education, and social issues. She uses the strength of collectivism to fight for water conservation and dignity of hers and women in the region. Her Sangh grew from 11 women to 2 lakh women while working on various social issues through initiative such as, ‘Jal Devta’, dry compost toilets, Nasha Mukti Abhiyan, etc. Jal devta is an initiative for sustainable irrigation practices by creating soak pits of 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet depth with stone, brick and sand lining. She advised that to work with/for rural people, one must first learn about their personal problems and become a part of their family, and then they’ll listen to what you have to say and come for collective action.
Dialogue 3 was about ‘Integration in Water Education’. Dr. Bejoy Thomas (coordinator), Dr. Girija K Bharat, Dr. Jenia Mukherjee, and K J Joy discussed the gaps in current education system and the various roles of individuals and institutions in social sector. The speakers advocated for a need for change in pedagogy of water education by developing methods for water literacy from the good cases, need for capacity building and work on the employability as people experience uncertainty working in water sector.
Dialogue 4 was about ‘Water, Gender, and Women’. Dr. Mansee Bal Bhargava, Preeti Rao, Chandrashekharan Jayaraman, Kanna K Siripurapu, Richu Sanil started the discussion with women in water from vulnerability and leadership aspects and ended with discussing the need for change in the manels in decision making for water matters. Water problems are mostly patriarchal problems. The male dominance in the decision making despite women being the epicenter of activities/vulnerabilities related to water. Richu Sanil from FES discussed how they are helping communities to set up ‘Mahila Sabha’ and the positive results of such initiatives. Kanna mentioned that we need to create enabling structures and spaces to help women talk about their issues and start an inclusive discussion. The conversation ended with an open question, what should a man do in this society to make inclusive leaderships and take charge of what is currently identified as only a women’s job? Richu Sanil concluded with an interesting statement that, “Men should just listen now.”
The Open House 2 session on ‘Brain Stilting towards Water Crisis’ conducted by by Ganesh Shankar and assisted by Hemang Vellore in which they made participants write (on stick-on papers) their water concerns and reflect upon the possible solutions besides writing their own ways to address them before sticking them on the board. Again, it was a mad rush to the board to stick the thoughts.
The second day alias Fest concluded with expressing gratitude to the near 250 speakers of the 100+ sessions and the 20+ team members who made this conversation series possible. A Short Compilation of the sessions was launched on YouTube, followed by a Book Cover launch of ‘Hydropreneurs in Water Conversation towards Water Conservation’. The book is planned by WforW as a Coffee Table Book with bios of the Speakers who have supported and encouraged the water conversation series to make it meaningful. These two activities made the speakers, and the team members present at the Fest a bit emotional to experience the two years of journey of the WforW Foundation. It was probably a good way to conclude the Fest so to restart the conversations soon with more energy.
Around 80 people attended the Water fest each day including the Master Students of the Natural Resource Governance Course from TISS and around 40 people from 20 cities. There was also an arrangement for participants to join online in the Dialogue sessions. Dr. Fawzia Tarannum (from Delft, Netherlands) coordinated the online participation with the physical event. Around 20 participants registered online and joined/interacted each day.
Team WforW is committed to continue the water conversations aiming towards bringing more knowledge on water worries and wisdom towards water conservation and management. The team is constantly seeking support in conducting sessions, digital handling, creatives, writings, social media and funding. The WforW Foundation is reachable through its website, email ( and, LinkedIn (@wforw/), Instagram (, Twitter (@WforWFoundation), Facebook (@WforW.Foundation/) and YouTube.
*Respectively: Founding director of WforW Foundation and founder-advisor at Environmental Design Consultants Ahmedabad; researcher at Eco Development and Research Cell, a not-for-profit initiative of Environmental Design Consultants Ahmedabad


Unknown said…
Dear Organisers
Water Fest for 2 days,very well conducted.
Kudos and Congrats to All of us

Well wishes
Prof Ajit Seshadri


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