As recent as two days ago I was interviewing Prof. Manipadma Datta of TERI-SAS, in which he happened to mention the privileged nature of his and my challenges in times of COVID. And I couldn’t have agreed more. The afternoon of this year’s 24 August my heart was plummeting from a festive high of three days into the dread of returning to daily life as Ganesh utsav was to be concluded in the evening. Just then appeared my aunt’s house help with a crisp white bandage and a red blot in it patched untidily across her entire head – she had been wounded earlier that morning in a fight for collecting water.
Meenu aunty or Smt. Meenu Devi is 35 years old and resides with her family of 11 in the village of Saidulajab of South Delhi. Women in this region mostly work as house-help to neighbouring affluent colonies and hence leave early in the morning for work. To collect water her husband, brother-in-law, nephew and daughter form a queue outside the house owner’s gate along with 20 others each morning at 7 AM. That morning, her daughter was pushed outside the queue by a local teenage boy to collect water before she did. This escalated into a fight and she was hit with a wooden rod on her head by the boy’s mother. The boy later revealed that he was in a hurry because he wanted to get fried snacks from a neighbourhood shop which was finally resuming business that day after being shut in the lockdown. Aunty’s actual photo, exact address and real name have not been revealed at her request.
Queuing up every morning for collecting water from either tanker or bore wells (legal or illegal) is a part of the daily life of many other dwellers like her. While she’s not aware of the legal/illegal nature of the bore well which fills the private storage tank from which she collects water, she’s pretty certain that they spend about an hour daily to collect about 100 l of water. It is billed in the monthly payment of ₹6000 to the landlord, whom she describes as a very kind man giving them extensions on rent in the face of the recent pandemic.
Saidulajab is one amongst the many villages of Delhi where people lack access to piped water supply within their house. People in cohort of houses where aunty lives fetch water from relatively shorter distances like 100-200 m, social distancing has been altogether abandoned. Aunty revealed that wearing mouth masks or social distancing have hardly been followed and police haven’t been too enforcing about this since their cohort is in the interior of dense foliage of houses. WHO’s recommendation of washing hands frequently as the first line of defence against COVID is a luxury they have not been able to afford. Her main strategy of defence has been to keep her kids as much indoors as possible by buying them more junk food and being more relaxed with television time restrictions. Clearly, I had enough water to submerge and dissolve a 16-inch idol of Ganpati fully while she looked at that tub with a concoction of expression I was not clearly able to read.
– Article written by Ekansha Khanduja –
Name of the Fellowship in 2020:
C4Y & IWP Water Champions Youth Fellowship 2020
July – December 2020
Fellow to be mentioned for this year:
Ekansha Khanduja is a fellow of Cohort 2.0 of C4Y & IWP Water Champions Youth Fellowship 2020
MTech, Department of Regional Water Studies, TERI School of Advance Studies, New Delhi
During 2020 Fellowship placed with partner organisation:
Development Alternatives from July – October 2020
Description of 2020 Fellowship:
C4Y & IWP Water Champions Youth Fellowship was conceptualised & initiated by Centre for Youth (C4Y) in 2019. To foster and empower Sustainable Youth Leadership in the country, and build their capacities on developing water smart solutions for efficient management of water resources, the six month of intensive fellowship aimed at aspiring young leaders. The fellowship programme is being implemented in partnership with India Water Partnership and a host of premier organisations in water resource management sector – Development Alternatives (DA); Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH); WaterAid India; Centre for Science and Environment (CSE); J S Water Energy Life Co; Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW); TARU Leading Edge Pvt. Ltd; ICLEI South Asia and Tree Craze Foundation. In 2020, Ministry of Jal Shakti, Government of India and WAPCOS Limited also supported the fellowship for strengthening and scaling its reach.