heroes of change

The Power of Persistence

By Ankita Bhalla/WAI

For 64-year-old, Gayatri Pawar from Amar Colony slum in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, the most important task of the day was to fill water from a source two kilometres away. The burden of carrying heavy buckets, multiple times a day, slowly led to a number of health implications for her. But when she opened the doors of awareness and knowledge, she started to voice her rights, that basic amenities like clean water with a household tap connection should be available not only for her family, but for the whole community. It made Gayatri take the lead in leaving no stone unturned in order have clean water easily accessible to her community.

The Power of Persistence

I came to Amar Colony slum about two decades ago with my husband and son. When we moved here it was a huge jungle with a handful of houses. Access to water and electricity seemed like a luxury as they were not readily available.

For years, I walked two kilometres every single day, multiple times to get the daily supply of water. You know, one round is never enough to ensure the water needs of a household. A majority of the times, we needed a 100 litres and had to make four to five rounds to and fro from the water source, each morning. Often, while walking back from the water source, we would trip or fall due to the heavy load of the water we carried on the uneven road.

In 2010, under a community development project, water pipelines were promised to be laid in our slum. As the work began, we were extremely happy and relieved that soon we would have household tap connection and a much easier life. The construction work went on for two years but was ultimately stalled, with no information or explanation to any of the residents.

We did not even know whom to ask or discuss it with. Years passed by and we kind of lost all hope that we would ever have a tap connection at home. The half constructed infrastructure for the household tap connection left the slum in an even worse condition. Our hopes were now crushed.

In 2014, WaterAid India (WAI) and its partner organisation came to our slum. As they interacted with the community members, they were told about the incomplete piped water supply connection infrastructure and the stalled project. Their team discussed the entire situation at length with us.

After several meetings and discussions with the team, all of us at the slum realised that even we, the common people, are capable of voicing our rights. We were told about the different departments that can be approached for different amenities, along with their concerned senior authorities.

Our ignorance and obliviousness soon vanished as we worked towards standing up for our rights, together. Being one of the oldest residents of the slum, I was an active part of the process. This helped me to not only understand the situation better but gave me the confidence to share the community’s concerns with relevant departments.

As part of first steps, I held meetings with the community members, as I was informed that I would need their support to get access to water for every house. With several discussions and counselling sessions the community members came together for the cause. Soon, we wrote letters to the municipality and demanded water supply. But during those initial attempts, we were hardly able to get a positive response from them.

As a consequence of in-depth discussions to seek a solution, we learnt that we could file an RTI (Right to Information) to know about the status of the pipeline installation project for our community. On doing so, we were informed that as per the contractor the work is complete, and even the final payments have been made! It was a big shock for us, as we were still struggling with collecting water from the far off handpumps. In fact, we were questioned on not reporting this earlier.

We again started contacting the Municipality Corporation and Zonal Office. After about 50 applications and repeated silent protests to meet the officials, we were finally invited by the authorities to discuss the problem.

I believe the authorities realised that we were there to stay, and so they helped us out with immediate actions.

Soon, things started falling into place and the work began. Piped water supply was sanctioned to our colony, with the old system removed and new pipelines laid down. It took a year for the entire process to take place, and finally we got clean water at our doorsteps.

I don’t think I can even explain what a blessing it is have access to clean water at home. My health is better. I am not as tired as I used to be. I love stitching but had to drop it as I never got the time earlier to pursue it. Now with a piped water supply connection in our house, I have resumed my hobby and it makes me so happy to be able to do that.

*All photos by Mansi Thapliyal / WAI