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Shramdaan Essays

Conceptualised by the Paani Foundation, the Satyamev Jayate Water Cup has taken on the ambitious task of solving the water crisis in Maharashtra, while also infusing in its villagers a sense of pride and confidence. 

In the summer that went by, the core team of the Satyamev Jayate TV show, which has been working on the issue of water scarcity in Maharashtra through Paani Foundation, a not-for-profit company co-founded by film personalities, Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao, undertook its most ambitious project yet – to make Maharashtra drought-free.

The idea was that Paani Foundation would train several hundred villagers from three talukas on watershed development. These villagers would then participate in the Satyamev Jayate Water Cup in April. The 45-day long competition would involve ‘shramdan,’ or ‘voluntary labour,’ in building important structures and thus, water storage capacities. Cash prizes were also announced for the winners.

The idea was pathbreaking; the heroes were common villagers and the ‘villain’ was a dark, powerful one that had claimed hundreds of lives and ruined livelihoods in the past decade: drought.

Initially, the villagers were not aware about the concept of Shramdan: ‘We have nothing of that sort happening here,’ they would say.  The same people eventually came together, armed with shovels and pickaxes, to participate in the movement; and a revolutionary model of development was born.

The competition has brought about a sea change in the lives of countless individuals.

Take, for instance, the Ambajogai Taluka of Beed District. In the 45 days marked for the competition, 4,203 villagers from 34 villages completed watershed work worth more than Rs. 1 crore, by working for two hours on average.

With the per day rate for physical labour being Rs. 191, this total amount comes close to more than Rs. 91 lakhs, even if we take into consideration 1/4th of the work day. This was simply unparalleled.

The people’s movement got tremendous support from government and non-government bodies alike, such as the Samast Mahajan Group, Jnana Prabodhini and the Jalayukt Shivar Abhiyan. Helping hands found their way to the villages from various directions.

During the course of the competition, physical structures worth Rs. 13 crore were constructed through donations in just Ambajogai taluka; these have helped in creating a water storage capacity of crores of litres.

With structures for water conservation being built from scratch and a rising awareness about watershed development, the villages of Radi Tanda, Khapartone, Patoda, Kumbephal, Kolkanadi and Shepwadi have seen a metamorphosis that will now last for decades. More important, however, is the fact that the movement has drawn people from across the board, of different ages and social standing, and has now empowered them to believe in themselves and in their power to solve their own problems.

During the Water Cup, no incidents of farmer suicide were reported in the district of Beed. Many villagers also had top government officials come to their villages and participate in manual labour, a practically unheard of scenario before.

Women who had once united against alcoholism, came back together for the cause of water conservation, while the men put aside their quarrels and differences. The local police even noted a reduction in crime rate during the days of the competition.

The result? The participating talukas got their reward in front of their eyes even before the competition named a winner on the 15th August at a grand awards ceremony.

Thousands of watershed structures blossomed across the village landscape, creating an annual water storage capacity of 1,368 crore litres, an equivalent of 13,68,000 tankers of water, with a market value of Rs. 272 crores.

Furthermore, the Satyamev Jayate Water Cup put the spotlight on the locals, as the media arrived to discover their stories, stories of some incredible Water Heroes. What started as a competition turned into an ongoing celebration for a better future. The long-term rewards weren’t just ample water storage, but the new sense of pride and confidence among villagers.

In the monsoon that followed, the rivers and streams filled up to the brim and, for the first time in years, the water stayed in them. Entire villages and talukas now have sufficient water and sights of villagers walking for miles, carrying vessels and waiting for tankers, have hopefully vanished for good.

The summer and monsoon of 2016 will be remembered for a long time by the several thousands of villagers in Maharashtra, but it will also mark a new beginning for the Satyamev Jayate Water Cup competition, which will be held again early next year, and this time, in 30 talukas!

Paani Foundation’s work so far is only a testament to the fact that just one simple, powerful idea, if backed by dedication and teamwork, can blossom into a revolution and change lives forever.

The writer, Irfan Shaikh, was Paani Foundation’s taluka co-ordinator from Beed district in Maharashtra. To watch ‘The Battle Against Drought,’ a documentary about the journey, visit www.paanifoundation.in

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Paani Foundation is a not-for-profit company set up by Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao in early 2016 in order to work towards creating a drought-free Maharashtra.

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The objective of the campaign is to mobilise people and reinforce the “Jan Aandolan” for sanitation to contribute to Mahatma Gandhi’s dream of a Clean India. Swachhta Hi Seva campaign will see large scale mobilisation of people from all walks of life to undertake shramdaan for cleanliness and construction of toilets and to make their environments free from open defecation. There will be targeted cleaning of public and tourist places. The participation will range from the President of India to the common citizen and would involve Union Ministers, Governors, Chief Ministers, legislators celebrities and top officials. Celebrities, faith leaders, corporate honchos etc. are being mobilised to spearhead the campaign in their respective areas of influence.

Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation has made elaborate plans along with the State Governments to involve people from various walks of life and make this an unprecedented people’s campaign. Reaching out to the poor and marginalised and providing them with sustainable sanitation services would be the hallmark of this campaign.

The campaign is scheduled to be launched by President of India on the 15th of September 2017 from village Ishwarigunj in Kanpur that has attained the status of open free defecation status. The President would administer nation-wide “Swachhta Hi Seva” pledge thereby initiating parallel action in all the 250,000 plus Gram Panchayats and cities in India. The launch campaign will be joined by Sushri Uma Bharti, Union Minister for Drinking Water and Sanitation; Shri Ram Naik, Governor of Uttar Pradesh; Shri Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and 7 persons representing various sectors of society, who are involved in supporting Swachh Bharat Mission.

Arrangements have been made to ensure formal launch of “Swachhta Hi Seva” campaign in all States and Districts involving Governors, Chief Ministers, State Ministers, MPs, MLAs and District Collectors. Pledged will be taken and Shramdaans done in Panchayats and other places simultaneously.

Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation has identified special dates during the campaign period. It includes three Sundays, 17th, 24th September and 1st October when people are being mobilised to do large scale shramdaan for toilet construction, cleaning of public places, bus stands, school and colleges, statues, hospitals and ponds in rural and urban areas. A special cleanliness drive is planned in 15 identified tourist places on 1st October 2017.

Vice President, Shri M Venkaiah Naidu, is scheduled to visit a village in Karnataka on 17th September 2017, which is being celebrated as “Seva Diwas” and offer shramdaan for toilet construction and general cleanliness. A large number of Union Ministers, MPs and MLAs are also scheduled to offer shramdaan across the length and breadth of the country on this day. 

On Seva Diwas, 17th September, Doordarshan has organised a World TV Premiere of “Toilet: Ek Prem Katha”, a film that has an overwhelming message about access and usage of toilets on Doordarshan, at 11am. Community viewing of the telecast is being mobilised to effect positive behaviour change. Several media houses have voluntarily come out to mount special campaigns for Swachhta during the fortnight.

At the culminating event of the fortnight on October 2 Gandhi Jayanti, which is also the Swachh Bharat Diwas, national awards for essays, films and paintings, and other Swachh Bharat awards will be presented to Swachhta champions from across the country and all walks of life. The fortnight was preceded by a countrywide essay, short films and paintings competition, especially focused on schools, youth organisations, central police forces, besides general citizens.

The Ministry has created a special portal and web page on MyGov.in facilitating people to upload pre and post intervention photos of their shramdaan and other interventions.



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