Bantha Water Movement

"BANTHA" Water Movement

womanwithbanthaIt is a strange and sad irony that while Uttarakhand supplies most of North India's water, many of its villages remain dry and lacking in even basic water facilities. The Ganga and the Yamuna and all their tributaries, huge snow fed rivers, leave these Himalayan slopes and irrigate the North Indian plains while some mountain villages stand back and watch helplessly. Meanwhile, many of the areas in Uttaranchal suffer drought-like conditions. In these villages, women have to walk five or six kilometers each day to reach a dwindling water source. Then they must walk back carrying 15 to 20 liters of water in a brass bantha on their heads. Young girls get initiated early to the process, usually resulting in the detriment of their schooling. They sometimes spend up to eight hours a day fetching water, and this is a day that is already filled with back breaking work.

Swami ji saw the evidence of this deprivation and difficulty while living in the mountains. After seeing just how desperate the situation was, in 1975, he and his followers began travelling from village to village, those that were afflicted and those that were not. They raised awareness and organised huge gatherings and meetings, and the community was spurred into action.

Meanwhile, Swami ji had done his research. He had put together an extensive survey of the region that included statistics on sources of water, demographics, and other relevant information. According to these statistics, there were places in which individuals only had access to one liter of water per day. The report was presented at a huge gathering that was organized on the SBMA campus. The then Commissioner of the region was present and it was to him that Swami ji addressed the results of the report.

On that day, the "Hinsariyataa/Hindolakhaal drinking water scheme action committee" was formed and Swami ji was elected its president. Pamphlets were printed and information about the problem widely distributed, and soon the whole area had joined the movement. The movement exerted a great deal of pressure on the administration. Proposals for drinking water schemes were sent to all relevant offices, huge gatherings were staged surrounding the offices, and women even converged on the Prime Minister surrounding him with empty banthas and vessels when he visited.

Eventually, the relentless community efforts caused the administration to buckle. In 1976, a scheme to pump water from the Alakananda river up to the affected areas was passed. It was handed over to the water board for full implementation by 1985. Today, well-placed water pumps and man-made streams have greatly improved the lives of the villagers, especially women.

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