“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Afsana highlights the failure of Kashmir’s administration to provide safe drinking water and how the burden of procuring water for families has fallen almost exclusively on women

(Ms. Afsana Rashid, 32, was born and raised in Srinagar and attended the Minto Circle High School. She graduated from the Government College for Women with a Bachelor’s degree in science, and completed her post-graduation degree from the University of Kashmir, obtaining her Master’s Degree in Mass Communication and Journalism. Ms. Rashid works as a senior journalist in the Daily Etalaat. She has received numerous world-wide recognition and awards for covering economic depravation and gender sensitive issues in Kashmiri journals, which include Sanjoy Ghose Humanitarian Award, Bhorukha Trust Media Award 2007, and the 2006-07 UNFPA-Ladli Media Award. Her work on “Impact of conflict on subsistence livelihood of marginalised communities in Kashmir and Alternatives”, was recognized by Action Aid India in 2005-06. She has travelled abroad attending a workshop on “conflict Reporting” by Thomson Foundation, Cardiff, UK, and a seminar for women in conflict areas by IKV Pax Christi, Netherlands. In February 2008, she compiled a book, “Waiting for Justice: Widows and Half-widows.”)

The Water Woes and the Valley Women

Incompetent administration and public vandalism has finally taken its toll on water resources in Kashmir as many water bodies, in the valley, have either been rendered polluted or totally unsafe for drinking.

Despite being rich in water resources, majority of rural as well as urban and suburban areas face the scarcity of safe drinking water nowadays. Women in most of the rural areas across Kashmir valley set out early in the morning to fetch water, a torturing routine.

“At times, we are out early in the morning, even before breakfast, to collect water,” said Shamshada Bano, a local from Tujjar area in North Kashmir’s Sopore town, while adding that it almost takes them two hours to fetch water. “After that we’ve our breakfast and prepare for our schools or other domestic work, whichever is applicable.”

Waiting in long queues for hours together, women have to collect water early morning. The practice therefore hampers women to participate into much vital fields including education.
“We’ve to wait for our turn for hours together to finally collect a pot of water or sometimes we return without it as water is available only for an hour or so,” said Bano, adding that collecting water isn’t easy. “Taps are so low that we have to first collect water in a tumbler and then pour it into a bigger pot. This is a tiresome activity. Generally, a family collects only one pot of water at a time.”

Shareefa Bano, another local here states that those who fail to collect water from nearby taps move outside village to collect it from streams. “Almost every family here has a handcart required to collect water from a distance. Mostly, women fetch water.”

In times of need, village women have to collect contaminated water from nearby Budshah paand (stream). The stream, locals inform, was once clean and safe and was used for drinking purpose. But with the course of time it has degenerated into a cesspool and the water is used for cattle, washing and cleaning purposes. “Earlier, this spring was filled with water but due to less rainfall this time, its flow has been adversely affected causing serious shortage of water,” observed Bano.

This routine adds work load for women who, otherwise, could have been more participatory in other fields of activity. “If we had proper water system, we wouldn’t face such difficulties and would have concentrated on other development works,” said Bano, adding “due to water scarcity, education of women suffers the most. At times we face health problems on account of traveling long distances to fetch water.”

She further said that girl-students often return as failures or have to reappear in exams as they fail to devote enough time to their studies.

“Where there is water, there is life,” says Khazir Ahmad, a ward member of village admitting that women of the area face immense problems in collecting water. “They have to cover a lot of distance on foot to collect water. Education of young girls is affected.”

The women are hardly assisted, in this job, by the male family members who, for some reason, consider it as a task specifically for women. “I too fetch water in a bucket but within the boundaries of the village. My sister has to go and fetch water from outside the village,” said Irfan Ahmad, a young chap.

The only occasion for the women to feel relieved is when a water-tanker would rarely come in sight. This time again, they themselves approach the truck and literally beg for water. They may even be asked to pay for it.

“Usually, it is for security forces and then we request them for some water. At times, tanker provides a bucket of water in lieu of money,” said another woman.

The village has a history of water borne diseases and infections resulting in serious health conditions of people who, then, require medical help. Though people here know that clean water was the basic requirement for them and nothing would work as a substitute, they sometimes are forced to consume contaminated water.

“Without water there is no concept of cleanliness.. In case we fail to collect tap water, we collect contaminated water which leads to various diseases like diarrhea, cholera, typhoid etc,” said Sarah Begum, a resident of Shallapur-Tujjar.

The scarcity of water in the area has also impacted the social status of the village among other adjoining villages who do not prefer to marry their daughters here.

“People aren’t willing to get their daughters married in this area as they know the difficulties faced by the women folk here. Those who are, by chance, married here often break relations or move out.” Said Sarah, another woman of the village.

Apart from irregular water-supply, the local administration, people alleged, also failed in replacing the decades old water pipes while as tube-wells or hand pumps offered to them by the government have also been rendered dysfunctional. Residents allege that despite a number of government employees deputed for ensuring water supply to them by the pumps, these pumps are still out of order.

(The article is part of Indo Global Social Service Society’s (IGSSS) Media Fellowship Programme under European Union’s EIDHR project jointly implemented with Welthungerhife in J & K. The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect views of European Commission, Welthungerhilfe and Indo Global Social Service Society.)