There is an urgent need to create mechanisms to empower widows in Yavatmal and Vidarbha, and give them the support they need to pick up the pieces of their lives and move forward. However, such initiatives are rare. One of the few such projects for the welfare of the helpless women is run by Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR) and its sister organization Sampada Trust.
“I was born in Paithan town of #Aurangabad, #Maharashtra. I did my graduation in computer management and after my graduation in 2003, I worked in the IT sector for a year. But, since I was voluntarily associated with an NGO named Institute of Health Management Pachod from 4th standard till my graduation, the desire to work for the society was always there inside me. It influenced me to do an MSW (Masters in Social Work) from the karve institute of social service - Msw, Pune University.
After my MSW, I worked with ‘Society for Promoting Participative Ecosystem Management’(SOPPECOM), (a Pune-based non-profit working in the area of natural resource management #policy and #research) as an intern for a month and then I continued there as #Social Researcher for three years, from 2006 to 2009. During this period, I got an opportunity to work on different issues and networks on water issues which broadened my understanding on this important resource for human and #ecosystemsustenance.My two main assignments there were the- Rapid assessment of watershed projects (studied more than 400 watersheds in #Maharashtra) for finding out the level of impacts and performance of different watershed programmes, and then we did a comprehensive study of watershed projects called ‘post-facto watershed assessment’ that studied the effect of watersheds after certain years of gap focussing sustainability of its benefits.
One of the interesting findings of my engagement with SOPPECOM was that due to lack of focus on changing people’s behaviour on water use and giving less focus on equity aspects (less benefit of vulnerable groups in participation and benefits) during the project design and implementation, people couldn’t manage their water resources sustainably and judiciously. This provoked me to study further in my academic life.
I joined TISS in 2009 for M.Phil and studied different dimensions of social exclusion of people in watershed processes and projects.Later I expanded my M.Phil study in PhD course, and explored the policy failures in governing the groundwater resource. Focus area of my PhD thesis was to understand whether the policies and acts in groundwater sector are adequate to address the issue of groundwater depletion or there is a gap at implementing these acts ground level. When I was in submission phase my PhD thesis, I got a call from WOTR’s Management to work on a pilot project on the implementation of Maharashtra Groundwater Act 2009 and designing and execution of interesting approach called ‘water stewardship’. As both these topics were very close to me, it resulted in my entry in #WOTR in 2016.
One of the main challenges in my work is to bring about a change in the behaviour of the people regarding their crop and water management practices. Changing behaviour is a long-term activity and requires continuous work, and hence sometimes, it becomes very difficult to achieve these results in a program mode of limited time. Another challenge is that over time, villagers become more reliant on the external organisations and aid. However, one way to solve this is for external organisations, like NGOs, to be mindful that their projects can be sustained even without them.
One of the initiatives I am optimistic about is ‘Water Stewardship’. In this initiative, the villagers learn the science of water budgeting, try to treat water as a public trust (common property which belong to all), work on demand side of water management and make efforts to improve the level of water governance by strengthening village institutions.
When it comes to WOTR, I feel that it occupies a unique space with a perfect blend of #policy, #practise and #research. The working environment of WOTR, where everyone encourages each other without any bias, is also unique. We have established ourselves as well known practitioners but as researchers, there is much more to be done.
Speaking for myself, I always want to be an ‘Organic Intellectual’ and I think, WOTR has helped me in my journey of becoming the person I wanted to be.
The most memorable experience of my life was working with Banjara community of Sunderwadi. This is a small village in Maharashtra where the entire population belong to banjara community. When we were constructing its first kind of common farm pond for securing drinking water needs of villagers in Sunderwadi, it was expected from the villagers that they would contribute 20% in the form of shramdaan. But, these villagers use to work in fields during day time and after coming from their work, they would help us in constructing farm ponds. They would work till midnight on farm pond construction, with the help of halogen lamps and singing folk songs. Those days were really exciting and memorable.
In conclusion, I would stress that water is not any one person’s private property, it belongs to all of us and ecosystems too. Hence, it must be used in a sustainable, judicious and most efficient way. So, we should try our best to minimise our water footprint (water requirements) as much as possible and conserve water for future generations.”