Community That Works Together, Stays Together

A dying well unites the town of Karuali, Rajasthan.

Over 50 years of utter neglect came to end when a group of nine journalists in Karauli, Rajasthan decided to lead the campaign to clean up the community step well by example. Instead of passively waiting for the municipal authorities to get its act together, they decided to enter the well themselves and begin cleaning the garbage with their own hands. They would use the news media they worked in to help spread the word and ask the people of the community to donate their time and labour to save the dying well. On the declared day of the clean up, the nine journalists arrived at the spot of the well where they were joined in their efforts by over 1000 pairs of hands.

“The well is an ancient entity,” says Sunita Kasera, Community Correspondent from Karauli who was one of the nine journalists who initially came up with the idea of the campaign. “It is one of those structures that give Karauli an identity. It is not only a popular tourist spot where people assemble from across the globe but in times of irregular rainfall or drought it is the only source of water for the town.”

Step wells are a common feature in towns and villages across the dry state of Rajasthan. Deep and multi-storied, they are excellent rain water harvesting systems and help replenish the groundwater. The steps have been built so it is easy for the people to walk down the well to gather water. The well in Karauli is a magnificent structure built as part of the royal palace and is over 600 years old. Over the years as the water began to collect at the bottom, additional storeys were added to the top. Sunita remembers that when the well was filled to capacity the two lower storeys are completely submerged.

“The neglect of the well came to our notice when the rainfall patterns began fluctuating over the last few years,” says Sunita. “Also it is part of our heritage and proud history. The death of the well was not a good sign for the town. Tomorrow if, God forbid, there is a drought we would have to look elsewhere for water.”

If the well was so important, why then was it neglected?

“The people were under the impression that cleaning the lake was the municipality’s job. But when the authorities were shirking their duties the people did not complain. But I’m sure if there was a drought the people would wake up and ask what happened to the well and start pointing fingers at each other. Instead of waiting for that moment of realization, we have decided to act now and save ourselves the shock.”

A week before the campaign began the local newspapers began carrying articles informing people about the importance of the step well and the state of its neglect. Local cable channels carried special features on it. People began to talk and the campaign caught the eye of the Local MLA Rohini Devi, who was also the direct descendant of the royal family that had originally constructed the pond. She declared five lakh rupees from the government coffers towards the effort which would go into forming and running a committee that looks after the step well, the minor repairs to the structure and the welfare of the volunteers.

But it was sheer turnout at the cleaning that took Sunita and the other journalists by susrprise. Men, women, youth, children, citizen groups, ngos, and erstwhile royalty – all had gathered, ready to get their community step well clean and back in working order.

“When we were talking of the campaign we never expected such a terrific response,” says Sunita. “It is always difficult to get people together but in this instance, almost the whole of Karauli heard the call of our well. We were there working as a community for the community. It makes me proud.”

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