Led by a septuagenarian, residents of Bapu Gaon revived a pond to meet their water needs. In the process, they set a fine example of community leadership in building resilience to climate change effects
Kalyan Mal Singh, a 70-year-old village leader, picked up his broom before narrating his history of nature conservation. It is his leadership that saved Bapu Gaon village from a recurrent water crisis.
Bapu Gaon is just 40 km from Rajasthan capital Jaipur. The village has suffered long spells of drought, and was then left devastated, ironically enough, by a flash flood in 1981. Around 150 people were killed in Bapu Gaon and neighbouring villages. All 350-odd homes in Bapu Gaon were inundated. The loss of cattle and property were unrecorded but impoverished everybody.
Restoring normalcy and rebuilding the torn village was the prime challenge afterwards. Singh took on the responsibility. “I knew people had lost everything and were grieving. But I had a great responsibility not to let them lose hope. I had to bring them back to life. I told them that this lease of new life should be dedicated to reconstruction of the village and our fate. Here our belief in god came to our rescue when we were all undergoing traumatic experiences,” Singh told indiaclimatedialoguet.net.
“I promised justified and maximum compensation to all who had suffered, without any bias and discrimination. I fulfilled my promise. Realizing the power of unity and leadership, the government officials supported me. The Patwari (village official) called the secretary (to the state government) and amicably disbursed due compensation to each of those who had lost their home, land or cattle,” he added. This trust paved way for future endeavours.
The 1981 disaster was a lesson for the need of better water management by channelizing excess rainwater through a well-designed drainage system. Another challenge was to find a permanent solution to drought which forced people to migrate out of the village to search for livelihoods. In 1995, all villagers pledged to work collectively to dig a pond to tackle water scarcity. They named it Ram Sagar.
Coupled with two anicuts across the local Dhoond river and four natural ponds, Ram Sagar enabled residents of Bapu Gaon to survive subsequent droughts, which have become more frequent and more severe as a result of climate change.
For the past decade, the villagers have not only been reaping two major crops every year, plus a third crop of tomato, chilli or watermelon. With increasingly moist soil, the production of cereals and other major crops like wheat, mustard, millet and groundnut has also gone up tenfold per hectare.
It took three years to dig the pond. Standing on its bank, Singh told indiaclimatedialogue.net, “I had to engage each household for the task and instruct each family to dig a minimum of do chaukadi (two square feet) of soil for the pond. Every man, woman and even children have their share in this pond.”
Migratory birds have also started to flock to the pond. And there is enough water and fodder for the cattle too.
Sharing the story of a parallel plantation drive during the construction of Ram Sagar, Singh said, “I would tell the dokari (old woman) that you would live maximum for 100 years but if you plant a tree here, people will remember you even after you die. You will remain in their memory forever.”
The pond has social benefits too. “Earlier a village boy would find it difficult to find a bride. Now parents are keen and happy to marry off their daughters to grooms in this village. They know that she can be happy and fetching water would not add to her woes. Women are happier here now,” added Singh.
Community worker Mahesh Sharma said, “He (Kalyan Mal) doesn’t hold the post of Sarpanch (village head) now but people would vote only for the one he would recommend. And he is a leader in the true sense.”
Women power connection
In her sixty years, Para Devi has been a witness of both good and bad in the village. She says it is the current time that they are enjoying the most. “The flood had affected us all and the only hope of regeneration was to get together. We all contributed to the construction of Ram Sagar which is now the most sacred place in the village. The water god needs to be appeased and respected. Be it birth, marriage or any village festival we all go to the bank of the pond and pray.” She added that women now work in the fields along with the men. They all have a share in the pond.
“In this village we don’t cut trees but just prune them. We know that trees are gods and we need to serve them and not hurt them through any of our deeds,” said 19-year-old Meera, member of a local women’s self-help group.
Residents of Bapu Gaon now thrive on farming and milk production. It has become a model of women’s empowerment, sustainable farming, women and child health, education and hygiene. It all rests on one foundation – assured availability of water round the year. And that was what the residents did for themselves.