Our third day in Orchha begins with the now familiar haze of fog, hot and delicious chai, and breakfast with a review of the previous day thrown into the mix. As we warm up in our conference room, we get an explanation of the caste system here in India, which as our comprehension level (aka, slightly confused) indicates is extremely complex and nuanced. Although this social stratification system is becoming more malleable with time, in rural India it still plays a fairly significant role in Indian's daily life. A village can be broken up into various hamlets, and these hamlets are often defined in terms of caste.
The interplay of economic status with social status is also complex and we learn that in order to be considered "below the poverty line" by the Indian government, the household income is set at less than or equal to $1 a day. It seems as if the Indian government has a myriad of welfare schemes aimed at targeting the poor (housing, food, sanitation, lunch for school) and yet there are still high levels of poverty. Today's focus is on water and how key water issues such as quantity, quality and management impact the continued existence of poverty in India.
We visit Village Dhikauli in order to see first-hand the watershed system put in place as an attempt to both mitigate water quantity issues and agricultural production issues. This particular system uses "check dams" placed strategically throughout the watershed of three villages in order to prevent the tributaries from flowing immediately to the canal during monsoon season. Instead these dams force the water to accumulate in quantity before overflowing and continuing on its path to the canals. In this way farmers with land in the area can make use of this water on a more consistent basis for irrigation purposes. By using pumps and long hoses farmers can get this water to fields up to 2 km away.
What I found most interesting about this particular visit was seeing the similarities between here and my previous experiences in Bolivia around the organizational structure and management of such natural resources. Watershed committees are formed and are placed in charge of the system's operation and maintenance and by forming such a committee the community is given ownership of their resource management. They are also highly involved in the process determining infrastructure placement. India appears to rely heavily upon this type of community group formation to improve access to resources, to empower, to disseminate knowledge and to enhance community ownership.
On our last stop we visit a home garden funded through a loan given to a group of women involved in a Self-Help Group. As just one woman, the banks are not likely to give out a loan for seeds for a home garden. But as a group, women are able to develop a credit history and are able to get loans to cultivate a home garden that can prove not only nutritionally beneficial, but also has the potential to generate additional income. For marginalized societies, the power of the group is substantial, and here this group formation is taken to levels that I had not really thought possible while still maintaining order. I look forward to the next couple weeks in Delhi, where I'm sure I will again be forced to think outside my own box of thoughts.
- Tatyana Venegas Swanson