Gharat Directed by Pankaj Rishi Kumar Digital video format 42 minutes
"The people's voice is water, water!" This is the chant of the water march, winding its way through the mountain villages of Uttaranchal, and opening the narrative of Gharat . This documentary focuses on the fate of the gharats--vertical axis waterwheels, which have been used by mountain communities across Northern India for centuries. For these villagers, gharats are a staple source of livelihood--they grind wheat, rice and maize and extract oil. Uttaranchal is home to 70,000 waterwheels. But as this documentary exposes, this way of life is under threat from big businesses upstream. Shots of crumbling gharats are liberally spliced with the macabre grinding wheels of corporate machinery.
The film explores the thorough apathy of policy-makers towards restoring the gharat and developing crucial forms of decentralised sustainable development. Upgraded gharats can turn a turbine to produce electricity at minimal cost. The performance of the waterwheels in the traditional task of grinding flour can also be optimised. But local government does not recognised this. Giant corporate projects are implemented with little regard for local peoples' livelihoods.
With hecos' help, over 150 villages across the Garhwal region of Uttaranchal have reinstituted gharats since 1989, bringing both grain milling facilities, and, for the first time, electricity to their mountain communities. Where big dams fail to provide electricity for the regions they dominate, gharat technology could, say hesco representatives, provide sufficient electricity for the entire Indian Himalayan belt.
The organisation has also started a watermillers' association and a gharat owners' association, which campaign for the protection of the gharat way of life and takes gharat issues to the doorstep of local government. The associations also campaigns for the inclusion of the waterwheel in state planning. "Empowering local communities with skill and knowledge so that they can make their presence felt at any forum is central to hescos's aims," says Joshi.
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