In Choki village, Gujarat, Dalit women have mobilized for water with the support of a Community Video Unit.
Access to safe drinking water is a basic human right. But in Choki village, in Limdee Taluka, Gujarat, an area mainly populated by Dalits, the population had to fight to get water to flow in their village. The area is particularly dry, making water an extremely scarce resource. Previously, women had to walk for miles to fetch water from neighboring villages. “We had to travel for miles to other villages to get water. Due to this, our whole day was spent just in collecting water,” recollects a woman.
In 2010, after attending the screening facilitated by the local Community Video Unit “Apna Malak Maa” (In Our Land), a group of Dalit women decided to take action to bring water to the village. The video, that documented sanitation issues that were plaguing other villages, worked as an eye opener for them, helping them to realize that their problem was not uncommon, and above all, that it could be fought against. Kanta Ben, under whose leadership the movement was formed, recalled, “one day, we heard that some people were coming to our village to show us a film. We also came to know that the Apna Malak Ma team was here. And they go from village to village addressing local issues. (…) So we decided to bring our issues to them too.”
The Community Video Unit, as well as its partner NGO, Navsarajan, a grassroots Dalit organization working in Gujarat, played a key role in their campaign, providing the women with proper guidance and support at every step. The CVU coordinator, Manji Bhai informed them of their rights, and encouraged them to form a Women’s Group (Mahila Panch), in order to have a platform to voice their demands. In parallel, the CVU team helped the women fill a complaint to obtain water, in accordance to the law.
Few months later, because no improvement had happened in the village yet, women took to the streets, and organized a rally in front of the district collector’s office. More than sixty women gathered, shouting slogans to make their anger heard and their demands publicly acknowledged. Ultimately, a pipeline was constructed, and water flowed in the village.
But discrimination against Dalits are deeply entrenched in Gujarat, and with access to water being extremely scarce, the pipeline triggered jealousy of neighboring upper-caste villages. Soon, the pipeline was diverted and the village was left dry again. But backed by the CVU and Navsarajan, and encouraged by their previous victory, the women did not give up. Despite the reluctance of the police, they filed a complaint to register the outrage. A local woman recalls the series of events: “After six hours of struggle, the police finally registered a complaint against the culprit. We complained that the pipeline was broken by them, and we asked the authorities whether water was only important to them and not to us. After that, we disconnected the culprits’ water pipeline and reattached ours. Finally, we had water once again.”
Today, Choki village is receiving water, and women do not have to walk for miles to bring water home. Occasional incidents still happen, with the water pipeline being damaged or diverted. But the women are now aware of their rights, and of their strength when united, and they do not hesitate to protesting in order to ensure the continuous flow of water.
Dalit women in India are at the bottom of the social hierarchy, suffering triple discrimination, as Dalits, as members of impoverished communities, and as women. They suffer multiple deprivations, and are rarely able to fight for their rights. But sometimes, a small sparkle is enough to give them the strength to do so. The CVU screening worked as one. Subsequently, Dalit women in Choki village showed a incredible, inexhaustible energy, and fought relentlessly for their most basic right – water.
Today’s video was produced by our Community Video Unit in Gujarat, Apna Malak Ma (In our Land). Community Video Units exist across India. In partnership with local NGOs, they produce videos documenting local issues and injustice, and organize screenings to mobilize local communities. Today’s video documents the impact they have obtained in Choki Village, where women were mobilized after attending one such screening.
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