January 22, 2005

Ambujwadi 4: Will you have some water?

Wells dot the entire expanse of Ambujwadi. This used to be swampy, overgrown land ("jungle", they tell me). The Pardhis cleared it when they moved in, filled in ditches and some marshy segments (some remain). But water remained a problem. The Municipality did not supply them any -- taking the view, of course, that these were illegals and their huts were illegal and illegals must not get water -- and so the Pardhis dug their own wells.

I'm standing over one, looking in. It's at least 25 feet deep, six feet across, lined for part of the way down with concrete; the erstwhile rim around it now just rubble. My new friends here are looking in too. A little boy runs up to peer in too; alarmed at how close he gets to the edge, Gangaram beside me yells at him to get back.

Not that there's much to see: what's at the bottom is not water, but muck and debris. Pushed in there during the demolitions. This is now a well that can't be used. Not only must we demolish these people's homes, we must also ensure that we deprive them of their water.

I stand over another well, another deep hole, but this one has long bamboo poles and timber flung in. Then another one, but this one is filled with mud and bricks to the brim, leaving a soft depression in the ground. Many more like that. Umabai Chavhan, getting ready to nurse her baby daughter Parvati on the rubble of her home, shouts across one to me: "All the things from my house are in there! The Municipality threw them in and pushed mud over it all!"

But really, what are these people doing for water? Two things happen when I ask that.

One, they take me to some plywood planks lying on the ground, almost at random. Lift one, and it's another hole disappearing blackly into the ground. A well, this one saved from the Municipality by the simple device of laying some planks over the hole. This way, Dilip Kale tells me, they managed to save one or two wells in the area. Another was saved by planks and by getting kids to sit on them; then they told the bulldozer men to leave the kids to their play.

And these are the water sources for the approximately 3000 people here. Washing, drinking, whatever.

Two, an old woman called Bhimabai Kale lowers a battered tin tied to a string into the well that's surreptitiously open for my benefit. Pulls up a load of water -- some dark specks and a couple of grimy looking leaves float in it, but hey -- other than that, it looks fine. "Taste it", Bhimabai tells me with a smile, "go on, taste it, this is what we use, it's OK!"

So I do taste it. It's OK.

We move on to the next dismal Ambujwadi sight. Very carefully, almost reverently, Bhimabai lays the plywood back over the well.


Reena Mathews said...

Hi Dilip, I have been following your blog since you started writing about the Tsunami disaster and I sincerely appreciate your bringing to light the problems of people who belong to the lower echelons of India's various strata (class, caste, economy, just to name a few). My heart goes out to them but for me and thousands (atleast hundreds) like me who want to help, who want to see a difference but don't know how to proceed, it'd be nice if you could also add a suggestion or two on those lines. I mean, I can respond to your post and blame the municipality or government for the issues that we have but will it make any difference to even one of those who are suffering? I guess not.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Reena, if you're still reading this ... there are indeed things you can do. Take up the cause of the slum dwellers for one, help find the guys who have proof of "legal" pre-1995 residence, help them file cases and so forth. Speak out against these things, for another. The sheer weight of public opinion for these demolitions has to be countered.