The temperature in Thar Desert is up to fifty degrees every third year due to famine or drought. The rural people here are disturbed, but they do not get distracted. This is the reason why Thar Desert is the only desert in the world where there is density of life in abundance. The biodiversity here has never left the hope of life in complex geographical and meteorological conditions, and has found the possibilities of life by adjusting itself to the conditions always. There will be shortage of water in a desert, but this is nature’s way of dealing with it. This is a region where salty water is extracted from beneath the earth and sweet water pours from the sky. But dense rainfall can make the desert a swamp with the entire area becoming prone to turning into a saline lake. According to nature where creatures here have adapted their life to the available resources, while maintaining the possibility of life by mutually cooperating with other species, mankind created unique treasures of water storage for themselves, their animals (especially cattle) and for future generations, life has been arranged to move ahead smoothly. In some areas of India where there is more rainfall than the Thar desert, there is scarcity of drinking water, while the people of the desert avoid the situation by utilising water as if it were the treasure of their ancestors.
Time changed, developments took place, humans tried to control nature through technology. To make life more convenient and prosperous, we have developed facilities that by just a gesture, our needs are made available at our disposal; whether it is by storing underground water or by building dams by blocking rivers. The exercise of pulling underground and surface water from heavy capacity-powered pumps and through pipelines from the place of origin, developed the culture of tap water which made humans forget the value of water. There are still people who walk miles and miles just to fetch a jar of water. A person who has been saving wealth and resources for the last seven generations is least concerned about the availability of drinking water and water needed for existence.
Will the next seven generations will have water and air to survive? By seeing tap water, the people were so fascinated that they forgot the precious treasures of water harvesting passed down to them by their ancestors. Even after seeing that they were being looted in front of their eyes, they remained silent. Imagine the thousands of years of indefatigable hard work that went into making these precious treasures. To provide water, our government spends money at a faster pace than a flowing river, making directionless policies and schemes which give less water and more troubles.
There isn’t a village or region in the desert where there is no traditional source of water. The names of villages are based on the sources of water. The villages’ names have Bera, Beri, Nadi, Sagar, Hala etc. prefixed to them. A village’s name is kept without water stagnation. In the last five to six decades, the government’s plans for providing water to the people are making them forget the traditional water sources as well as making them eyewitnesses to their own methods of wasting water. From Barmer to Jaisalmer, Bikaner, Churu, Nagaur, Jodhpur, Pali, Jalore to the foothills of Aravali, Sikar in Jhunjhunu, old Johad – community owned traditional harvested rain water storage, ponds, rivers, streams, Kunds – small ponds, Baavdis – step well, pure artistic ponds made of lime and stone, have turned into ruins, and the villages are filled with soil and garbage. They have become places of illegal mining. The courtyard of the house then known for its cleanliness is now used to get rid of dead animals and trash. A generation that drank water from these traditional water sources, followed the rules and regulations made for water sources, soil system, soil erosion in the community system before the arrival of monsoon, today only speaks about the waste of these sources.
Gandhian thinker, late Anupam Mishra wrote some of his experiences seen in the construction process of ponds and the wastage caused due to it in his book, “Aaj Bhi Khare Hai Talaab”. Based on his experience, he wrote, “Hundreds and thousands of pounds did not appear from oblivion. There were some who commissioned work for these ponds and there were many who actually constructed hundreds and thousands of them. But in the last two hundred years, they have been turned into zero by those who have learnt a little from the new education.” Perhaps this is a time shift. The new generation that measures the world with a snap of a finger has seen these water sources as garbage dumbs in the village; they have seen water only out of taps or in bottles. They are least concerned about these water sources, nor do they drink water from them. Due to the lack of communication between the two generations in regard to knowledge and culture, the gap between them has widened.
Time has changed. Nature is changing. Weather patterns are changing. The water crisis in the desert has started knocking. In the desert, there is no crisis of water. The method of harvesting rainwater has great difficulty. There is a crisis of unnecessary treatment towards water. There could be a crisis of water when there is disruption in the supply of water through canals and pipelines. There is no crisis of resources to recover the old water sources, there is a lack of will. Lately, the right society, government, social organizations and media establishments by taking care of the traditional old water sources, harvesting rainwater, organizing the society to spread awareness on water issues are driving a campaign to build a unit, ten units, hundreds of thousands of units of these water sources. The government has created the Ministry of Water Resources. By combining manpower and hydropower, society has the opportunity to revive the traditional water sources. To rejuvenate these sources, to fill the vacuum of water rituals, to hand over these priceless treasures into the hands of the future generation, there is a need to raise thousands of hands again so that the coming seven generations could live with four million species of living beings.
Dilip Bidawat, Rajasthan