Tokpada’s ‘Water Women’

Villagers in Nashik district hail water revolution

By Dev Kotak

Persevering, stubborn and defiant are words best used to describe the hamlet heroes of Tokpada village in the Adgaon region of Nashik. They are tough, for they have pursued with relentlessness and dedication, only to get access to one of the most basic and fundamental necessities of life, water.
The women in this village fight no less than a battle each day as they are forced to make a minimum of two or three trips to the closest water source, each trip taking close to two and a half hours, balancing on their return, three heavy pots on their heads, many a times barefoot

The transformation is a glowing example of the power of the collective, and has been built on the twin principles of bhoodaan (donation of land) and shramdaan (voluntary contribution involving physical activity). In other words, the big landowners agreed to donate some part of their land for the larger cause of the village while the small peasants toiled away to meet these goals.

This intervention was led by Project Chirag in alliance with their grassroot partner, Diganta Swaraj Foundation.

Because of the loss of time, we don’t get to feed our children before school, so they end up skipping classes that day as they cannot attend on an empty stomach. If there is a proper supply of clean water then, we don’t have to make those trips anymore. It is mutually beneficial for our children and us as we can go to the farms, and they to school (children were earlier being used as water carriers). We will remain eternally grateful when we receive water. Main advantage is that our bodies won’t hurt and pain anymore.

- Chandrabagha Jadhav, a villager
A villager and a mother of two says “We commence our trips by 5 am and almost our entire day revolves around the task of fetching water. I make two trips each in the morning, afternoon and evening. There is no time left for any productive activities, we cannot help out at the farm either.”
Project Chirag, who have been for long specializing in identifying, executing and providing infrastructural aid and through their marquee five-point rural transformation model in rural development programs in villages, can vouch for the villagers’ resilience

“The water filtration plant consists of a pump submerged inside the lake. It pulls the water through suction up to a height of 80 feet and stores it in an overhead tank of 50,000-litre capacity,” informs Rahul Tivrekar, the founder and director of Diganta Swaraj Foundation.

The plant works on ultra-filtration technology. It’s power-efficient and a good idea for a village that suffers from the irregular electricity supply, he adds. Furthermore, the overhead tank is connected to taps across the village.

“The villagers of Tokpada are iron-willed people. I was amazed to see their level of follow-up and stubbornness as they kept following us (our team members) wherever we went for either installation programs or impact assessment. This is because they have first-hand witnessed the benefits the village and the villagers have got through our transformation programs in other places,” says Pratibha Pai, Founder Director Project Chirag.
In Baldyachapada village, separated from this hamlet by a river, the villagers of Tokpada noticed the work being done by Project Chirag. Their demand right from the start had been for water. They were diligent with their requests, following the team to Ghodipada and Mukundpada villages, where interventions were completed in 2020. Infact they submitted a written letter and coaxed the NGO, asking the valid question, “Why is no one paying attention to and doing something to solve the water woes in their village?”

The availability of clean drinking water has led to a drop in the cases of water-borne diseases in the village. “Earlier our stock of 50 tablets (for cough, fever and dysentery) would last for about two months. But our last stock lasted for eight months!” said the resident ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) worker.

The tap water facility was followed by the construction of public toilets in the hamlet. This has brought down the instances of open defecation and made the women feel safer.

“Earlier, we had to wait till the dark or venture out very early in the morning to the fields. And it was always embarrassing to take someone along to relieve ourselves. [But] after the construction of toilets, we don’t have to worry about our security,” says another woman anonymously.

Along with solar powered lift irrigation which pulled water for drinking, domestic use, sanitation and agriculture, 45 households, streets and a school received solar electrification. Easy access to water will not only save time, energy and improve the health of villagers but drinking pure water will also lead to a drop in water-borne diseases. Cement tanks (houds) will allow water for irrigation, promoting agriculture as an income generation component throughout the year and mitigate migration.
“When we heard that taps and an ultrafiltration plant were going to be installed, we were overjoyed,” said a village woman. The general village sentiment spells the same.

Clean energy and lighting have had far-reaching effects. Around 108 households in Warghadpada today have solar home lighting systems comprising of two bulbs, mobile charging facility and a portable lantern installed under Project Chirag. The farmers are able to save close to Rs100 per litre, which they would earlier spend to run the kerosene lamps. The lamps would also give off dangerous fumes, which the villagers don’t have to put up with any more.

With an approaching monsoon, fetching water from a distance of 2.5 kilometres, barefoot on a treacherous, dark path, with no electricity, threatened the social security of the women. The biggest challenge was to get back to their homes, safe and sound, before the rains got any wilder.
While there are totally 225 beneficiaries in this village, there are some who are keen on farming and still in need. But change has begun in the ‘once bereft of basic resources’ Tokpada.

However, education does remain a challenge and it has suffered further because of the pandemic. On the one hand, schools and junior colleges within the Zila Parishad aren’t fully equipped to impart e-learning. On the other hand, many children haven’t been able to take online classes since the lockdown because their parents do not own a phone, leave a smartphone.

Stories of change