Ever watched the much hailed Bollywood movie “Dangal”? Termed as one of the most remarkable works of celluloid based on the real story of a man(Mahavir Singh) ignited with a dedication to wrestling and a desire to leave his legacy by encouraging his daughters (Geeta and BabitaPhogat) to become international wrestlers. It is ought to leave you with patriotic uplift that is tough to resist. The very same year i.e. 2016, the team of TV Series Satyamev Jayte was struck by such an uplift that resulted in the non-profit organization “Paani Foundation” with a goal to fight the drought in Maharashtra. It all started when we realized that reality show “Satyamev Jaytey” had a deep impact on people and numerous issues needed serious solutions. We wanted a meaningful cause that could survive a couple of years and build awareness. Water being something very fundamental to everyone and Maharashtra being our “Karmabhoomi”(meaning-land of karma as we live here), we chose it for implementation. Rather than being a mere reality show, we dreamt of being a medium of change and expand our limits to motivate actual people to participate, stand strong to overcome the most burning issue -water scarcity!
The question that still remained was how to create awareness? Since this is an era of “gamification”, we introduced a contest named “Satyamev Jaytey Water Cup”, where villages work to showcase that they have done the maximum for water conservation and percolated highest water quantity. A simple game was arranged where three generations from a family would play a game to fill water bottles using a straw to suck water from the glass. The first chance was given to grandparents, then parents and last chance was given to the grandchildren to suck water and fill the bottle to win. But by the time grandchildren were given chance no water was left. It was a no-brainer to understand that if the water keeps depleting there would be no water left for future generations. The very thought of such a situation stirred the minds of people and seeds of awareness were sown. We conducted thorough research to design the syllabus and fun-filled training focusing on experiential learning. Villages were invited and asked to pass Gram Sabha resolution stating they wanted to compete. Also, they were required to send 5 people, including at least 2 women, to training centres, learn about water conservation principles and watershed management structures like soak pits, earthen dams, and contour trenches. Post their return to villages, each village had one technical trainer and one social trainer leading the work involving all the villagers pitching into shramdaan i.e. volunteer work. Villagers executed their plans in the months before the monsoon and their success was measured after the rains.
The next challenge was around finance for equipment and fuel to run that equipment. We overcame this thanks to the convergence of numerous forces:
1. People, the most important constituent.
2. The State government ran “Jalyukt-Shivar Abhiyan” under which government machinery was supplied for watershed management. This resulted in a unique partnership without any transaction, contract or MoU, no giving and taking of money, yet all worked for identical goals.
3. Corporate donors like TATA Trust, Reliance Foundation and more than a thousand NGOs funded villages.
Around 150 out of 358 talukas in Maharashtra are in a drought. In 2016 the water cup started with 3 districts and 116 villages. In 2017 the number raised to 30 talukas and over 1300 villages. Last year city dwellers also participated in an event called Chala Gaavi meaning ‘Let’s go to the villages’ .Almost 25,000 people from Mumbai, Pune, Nashik, Aurangabad, and Nagpur came the previous night, slept in the fields just to start work before the sunrise and heat set in. Various groups participated, students, office-goers, a group of doctors from Satara made arrangements for breakfast and music making it magically festive! This year (2018), it was 75 talukas and over 4,000 villages. Looking at the huge enthusiasm, Jalmitra (water friends), a volunteering initiative was launched. On May 1, Maharashtra Day and Labour Day, ‘MahaShramdhaan’, promoted via a television show, had registrations closed on April 25 with 1.3 lakh people volunteering. Critical masses included villagers who forgot political rivalries, age-old caste barriers, television channels were not fighting for TRP but for drought free Maharashtra.
Paani Foundation is now working on around 90% of drought-hit Maharashtra with a mission to eradicate drought. We do not have the desire to go on forever. The target is for Maharashtra to become tanker-free in five years from the time we started. Our lessons are available to everyone and next, we aim at deeper engagement, a competition only on four things: forests, grasslands, soil health, and the planned use of water for villages which have become water-abundant and must take the next step. The best part of this is a win-win even without winning a prize!