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Daily-current-affairs / 23 Jan 2023

Caste and Access to Water: The Missing Link : Daily Current Affairs


Date: 24/01/2023

Relevance: GS-2: Welfare Schemes for Vulnerable Sections of the population by the Centre and States and the Performance of these Schemes; Mechanisms, Laws, Institutions, and Bodies constituted for the Protection and Betterment of these Vulnerable Sections.

Key Phrases: Missing links Between Caste and Water, Mahad Satyagraha, Water Narratives of Dalits Informed by Caste, Jal Jeevan Mission, Water-Caste Nexus, Missing Link in Government Policies

Why in News?

  • Launched in 2019, the Jal Jeevan Mission is halfway towards achieving its goal of piped water supply to 18 crore rural households by 2024.
  • However, this achievement is marred by near-constant and brutal incidents of Dalits trying to access water.
  • These incidents raise questions over some “missing links” of the Jal Jeevan Mission.

Key Highlights:

  • The Mission is an ambitious central government scheme that aims to provide an assured 55 litres per capita per day to every rural household by 2024. However, Dalits struggle to get adequate water to quench their thirst, especially in rural areas.
  • Recent incidents across rural India of Dalits getting beaten up to death, specifically around access to water, are now a new normal.
    • In August 2022, Indra Meghwal, a Dalit student from Surana village of Rajasthan’s Jalore district, was beaten to death by his teacher reportedly for merely touching a drinking water pot.
    • A similar death of a Dalit man occurred in Rajasthan’s Jodhpur district in November 2022 — Kishanlal Bheel was thrashed for drawing water from a tubewell.
  • Research study titled “Droughts, Dalits and Adivasis” by the National Dalit Watch, in September 2022 surveyed Marathwada’s 2,207 Dalits and Adivasis of 10 villages of Osmanabad and Kallam blocks.
  • The study found that 72% did not have adequate water for drinking and hygiene, while 56% SCs and 48% of STs reported experiencing untouchability.

Missing links between caste and water: A Historical Legacy

  • Historical evidence shows the century-long struggle of Dalits for “access to water”.
    • Mahad Satyagraha: A historical movement led by Dr. B R Ambedkar in March 1927 to assert the rights of more than 2,500 untouchables to use public water tanks, flips the question of “how far things have changed for Dalits” when it comes to access to water.
  • One of the prevailing forms of ‘untouchability’ practices and discrimination even today is the denial of drinking water to Dalits.
  • Even today, the water narratives of Dalits are informed by caste which has been a prominent, almost inherent factor in water usage in India.
  • This fatal link between caste and water is profoundly troubling and makes access to basic needs difficult for those already on the margins.
  • The severity of the restrictions on water informs Dalit notions of themselves as human beings and their relationship with water and other natural resources.
  • Untouchability’ rules in India even today forbid sharing of water with the ‘lower’ castes.

How is the Jal Jeevan Mission addressing the issues of untouchability and caste-based discrimination?

  • Research has demonstrated that caste segregation remains a significant barrier to public goods, including access to water.
  • Despite the intimate linkages between caste and water, the caste question is never explicitly considered in the mission.
  • While the Jal Jeevan Mission promotes “Har Ghar Jal” and promises drinking water security to every rural household, such discriminatory incidents point out that government schemes at large that speak of ‘universal’ access neither consider nor actively try to counter the effects of the social structure of the caste system in India.
  • While the Mission strives for “ease of living” for rural communities, it makes no redressal for incidents of violence against Dalits as well as provisions for how caste too shatters access to water given how the lack of water is tied to the:
    • lack of women’s participation in income-generation opportunities
    • major health issues
    • the inability of girls to go to school

Concerns with the Governance Structure of the Mission:

  • According to the Mission guidelines, a Gram Panchayat of a village should have a sub-committee or Village Water and Sanitation Committee (VWSC) comprising 25% of elected members of the panchayat from weaker sections of the village (SC/ST) proportional to the SC/ST population of the village.
  • However, there are no clear roles and responsibilities allotted in either the JJM Mission guidelines or the “Margdarshika for Gram Panchayat” for the SC/ST members of the VWSC, which raises the question of the effectiveness of the representation of Dalits in the Mission.
  • Thus, it raises the concern that if upper-caste members are not aware of their roles and responsibilities in the VWSC, how can SC/ST representatives of the VWSC address the problems of access to water faced by a community with no “power” in the VWSC?

Caste Discrimination during water-related hazards:

  • Water-related hazards also affect the Dalit community.
  • The New Humanitarian found that during droughts and flood-related relief work, caste discrimination persisted when it came to rehabilitation and support of those affected, more recently in Odisha and Kerala.

Way Forward:

  • The Mission may have helped several Dalit households in villages across the country get piped water supply, which is commendable. Yet, constant deaths and violent attacks on Dalits, specifically around access to water, means that the mission must address them directly.
  • Otherwise, even this newly expanded access to water will leave voids and consequences for Dalit households. These voids then affect all parts of the Mission.
  • The JJM also attempts to build a “sense of ownership” through community engagement for the program’s successful planning, implementation, operation, and maintenance.
  • Such participation cannot be meaningful if the Mission does not address caste-based violence.
  • The “water-caste nexus” remains unaddressed and is a significant missing link in government policies, which must offer separate provisions for Dalits to have safe access to water. Any policy without these provisions shall remain “untouched” by “Dalits”.

Source: Indian Express

Mains Question:

Q. The “water-caste nexus” remains unaddressed by the Jal Jeevan Mission and it is a significant missing link in government policies, which must offer separate provisions for Dalits to have safe access to water. Examine. (150 words)

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