Checking the damage

MANTHAN SE PRAVAH·VHS (PAL)·colour·30 mins· Gujarati (with English commentary)·Directed by Raju Barot·Centre for Drinking Water Resources- Utthan, Ahmedabad·1995

By Himanshu Thakkar
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

MANTHAN se Pravah (strength from struggle) is a film on a number of largely women-based initiatives for revitalising drinking water resources in different parts of Gujarat. Remarkable in concept, the film covers contemporary initiatives for promoting local and traditional water-harvesting systems in different parts of Gujarat. These movements have been primarily inspired by women because in most Indian households, it is they who are responsible for garnering the family's domestic water supply and consequently, face the travails of its shortage.

The underlying message of the film is that the centralised and so-called modern pipe-water supply systems have failed in different parts of even relatively prosperous states like Gujarat. Failure of the government's approach is evident by the increase in the number of no-source villages in Gujarat from about 4,000 in the early '60s to over 14,000 in recent years.

The film comprises of eight different episodes covering different areas of the state. The first of these is about an interesting three-stage water tank in Khambhra village in Kutch district where -- in the middle of a desert -- the people have maintained a tank which caters to all their needs even in the hot month of May.

The third episode takes us to Dwarka. The area around faces problems related to salinity, but the famous Krishna temple continues to source sparkling water from the underground tank. The water in the tank is supposed to be disinfected by the darkness underneath and the fresh lime added to it every year. In Unjha town of Mehsana district, the local community was compelled by government inaction to rejuvenate an 800-year-old well when groundwater in the area -- which shows the greatest drop in Asia -- got contaminated by fluoride.

Covering Khari village in Kutch next, the film throws light on an entirely women's initiative lead by the Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan and Jan Vikas (both voluntary organisations) which have found an end to water problems through local water-harvesting in a pond.

The film also makes a mention of a very significant well-recharging movement that has spread like fire throughout Saurashtra, leading to the revival of over two lakh wells. This has been a very important movement which definitely demanded greater elaboration. Nesadi village in Amreli district is another place where the villagers have themselves organised activities to harvest water.

The most significant message of the film, that no progress is possible without a struggle, is reflected by the episode which highlights a movement in 22 villages in Jambusar taluka of Bharuch district. In a declared dark zone (where the groundwater source is exploited to over 85 per cent of the potential), the Indian Petrochemicals Corporation Limited has been allowed to draw nine million litres of water a day. The people, led by the Manviya Technology Forum, have been fighting to stop the looting of their source of water supply. The last episode is about the initiative by Mahiti, a voluntary organisation, in the Dholera locality of Ahmedabad. The film ends with the message that only women-centred local community initiatives can lead to a sustainable, long-term solution to the drinking water problem.

However, the film is not without its limitations. While on the one hand it tries to be extensive by narrating the different struggles and initiatives for drinking water supply, it fails to discuss policy-level issues and the alternatives required. For example, it fails to focus on how a macro-level approach is dominating the management of water resources. Such criticism would have particularly befitted a documentary on the water problems of Gujarat, where the government is trying to prove that the completion of the controversial Sardar Sarovar Project would signal an end to the drinking water problems of the Gujaratis. The film is also silent about the relationship between drinking water and the larger water scenario. The narration, sound and picture quality of the production could have done with some improvement too.

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