IndiaUnheard Video Inspires Community To Take Direct Action

Inspired by an IndiaUnheard (IU) Community Video, a village crippled by water scarcity, begins to believe in the power of the people to take action and create change. In 3 months, the people work together to revive a 250 year old well. Over 7000 people who received water only once in four days now have regular water supply for their basic needs. The collector of the district has now asked for a screening of the video. The people are planning to use it as an advocacy tool to suggest key changes to water administration. Once they cover the district, they are planning to influence the state.

This is how it all unfolded….

Last year, IndiaUnheard published a video on the inspiring journey of a rural community who decided to take their long standing water issues in their own hand. They came together and defiantly showed the other cheek to the authorities. Instead of awaiting Godot, the men, women and children of Aundhewadi village in Maharashtra volunteered their time, money and labor and built a pipe-line connecting a nearby spring to the village water tank. Anand Pagare, IndiaUnheard Community Correspondent from the neighboring town of Malegaon, documented this struggle and the sweet outcome of self-reliance.

At the time of publication in November 2011, Anand told IU that hoped that his community video would inspire many others to bring about their own community revolution. A few months later, in a village next door, his words would come true…

The village of Girnare in District Nashik, Maharashtra lies in the valley of a curious paradox. It is surrounded by major dams and irrigation projects but the village itself has been dying for water. It suffers from terrible summers when the low water tables dip even lower. There is not enough water for basic needs like drinking, cooking and bathing. Wells and bore-wells yield only dust. Villagers would wait for the government water which only flows once in four days.

Repeated appeals to the authorities had failed to relieve the situation. A 68 lakh state grant was given to the region to set up its water infrastructure. But nothing has yet materialized.  The administration is corrupt and smug about it. The around 14,000 people in the village were beginning to brace themselves for the dog days ahead.

Ram Khurdal, a local activist and theatre personality is one of the foremost voices of the Girnare community’s water struggles. He is a former acquaintance of Anand. Both have previously worked on a project together.  He was looking up Anand’s recent work on the internet when he came across the video.

“For me, it was not just the story of some village fighting for and getting its access to water but it was also an idea and an inspiration,” says Ram. “Why couldn’t the people of Girnare do something similar? For years we have been fighting with the authorities and to no avail. When I watch the video, I thought – why not take matters into our own hands?”

Ram forwarded the video to Buleshwar, his friend, the headmaster of the local school. They met to discuss how to bypass the red tape of the local officials and get the people of the community involved in the struggle. That was when the idea of reviving the 250 year old village well struck them.

“The village had all but forgotten about the well,” says Ram. “We had begun to use it as a community dump. Sometimes when we had visitors we would take them to the well to show them our ‘monument’.”

“When Buleshwar and I started talking, we realized that not very long ago, the well used to serve all our water needs. The well, built by Queen Ahilya Devi, was also symbol of our tradition and heritage. In more ways than one, it needed to be revived.”

Change began with a community screening of Anand’s video that was organized at Buleshwar’s school. After the video was received with applause by the audience, Ram laid out the plans. Every member of the community would contribute what they could – time, labor or money. They would make a commitment to themselves, their village, their community. “I told them that it wasn’t easy but it was certainly easier than getting the authorities to act,” says Ram. “If not you, then who?”

For three months, Ram and Buleshwar supervised the painstaking clean up and reconstruction of the well. “It was hard work,” remembers Ram. “But there is a joy and an unbeatable spirit in working together. We had each other for inspiration. We wanted to show the authorities that we didn’t need them anymore. They were only puppets. The real power was with the people.”

“When I got a call from Ram, I was overjoyed but you have to contain yourself at such moments,” remembers Anand. “I told him that he could use my video in any which way he can. But I also told him that I would be involved only if he was serious, if he was willing to go all the way to the end.”

“A few months later I got another call,” says Anand. “It was Ram again. The reconstruction of the well was almost complete. As promised, I went over to visit him with my camera. I had yet another inspiring story to document.”

The 250 year old well currently holds more than 20 feet of water. Atleast 7000 people of Girnare now have enough water for their daily needs.

Ram says that this success has inspired ambition in him. It is not just Girnare but the entire dry northern stretch of Maharashtra could benefit from taking direct action, he says. “This is the land where one village fights another for water. It is time to stop fighting and work together. We need Anand’s video to convince the people of this.”

The collector of the district has now asked for a screening of the video. The people are planning to use it as an advocacy tool to suggest key changes to water administration. Once they cover the district, they are planning to influence the state.

It all began with a 3 minute video, a revolution televised.

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