Pro Or Against Water

WaterDear Jal Rakshaks 

In a recent Workshop, a comment by one of my friends in the developmental sector said something that got me thinking.  We were talking about a civil society advocacy group for Water. She asked me whether I wanted to be part of that group. I immediately said “Yes – any group that cares for Water is a group I’d like to be part of.” Then I asked her who the other members were. She reeled off some names. I was familiar with them and so, without thinking, I said, “ Oh- the Anti-Privatization group?’ She looked at me speculatively and replied, “ Yes…though we too are part of it.” Then more suspiciously, she asked ” Are you pro-privatization or Against?”

I was stumped for a moment and then said the only thing that came to my mind  “ I am pro – Water for All”

I remembered another time, another place when a government official had made a similar statement – equally suspiciously – “ Outsourcing is not the same as privatization –I hope you can appreciate the difference?”

As I sat back today and thought about these questions and my answer, I wrote this blog randomly – just penned down my thoughts as they came….

My relationship with Water

I am neither an activist, nor an expert on Water, I am a student – a ‘shishyaa’ – of Water. As I go through the rituals of the work that I do for Water issues, one part of me watches and analyses Water in the different situations It finds itself in. Each time I marvel at the amazing resilience of Water… the calm grace with which it allows adverse situations to play themselves out.  One of the things that I have learnt from It is to assimilate every thought that comes my way. Water treats nothing as good or bad. It is as receptive to poison as it is to nectar. It labels neither. It leaves the labeling to the user. For example, a colony of bacteria in a sewage filled pond probably labels the Water as ‘Excellent –A + category Health drink” while we will label it ‘Highly polluted – E category – unfit for use”

And that brings me back to my friend’s question and my answer. I think, the answer to whether private involvement in Water is good or bad will vary, depending on who is answering it.  And also will be determined by the circumstances in which private involvement is brought in.

Where the government system works efficiently, with decision making based on rational parameters, compliance is ensured and where sustainability of the water system is planned for, there, perhaps, private support is not needed. In such a place, the internal dynamism of the government supplier will ensure that Water for All becomes a reality.

But what of where the government’s water decision making gets influenced by irrational pressures? Or when it is not able to invest in infrastructural improvements needed to make the system work as required.  When the price paid for its inefficiency, is unsustainable pressure on the source and non availability of water for people?  Perhaps this is where the choices open up and so, the debate starts.

If you ask those who are deprived of Water, they say that the first and most important need is to make water available for all. The choice of mode of delivery and its management system must be decided based on what serves this need best.  In many villages, NGOs supply safe drinking water to people. The polluted village lake has been given as their source of raw water, they have been given some financial support for the capital investment. The operational costs of the system are recovered through a price they charge for the treated water. The pricing is very reasonable, the water quality is good and a local person gets a livelihood running the system. But, in a way, this is a form of privatization – infact the worst kind where the source itself has been given away – so is this good or bad?  

Those who argue for private involvement in Water management come armed with a huge bunch of facts and figures to prove its impact on efficiency. Those who argue against it come equally armed with examples of failed experiments and figures to prove that we are playing into the hands of profit making entities. Each is passionate and absolute in his belief.

What irony …formless Water –  the universal solvent, reflecting all that is around it – …. Loved passionately by lovers –  rigid, exclusive and with doors firmly shut on each other.

The truth is, there are no sides – we are all on the side of Water. Water must be allowed to do what it is best at – slaking the thirst of any living being that needs it. It must not be held hostage by any entity or ideology. With open minds and pure intent we must together identify the method or combination of methods that ensures this.  

So, Jal Rakshaks, whatever be your belief on how best to care for Water, count me in as a fellow care-giver. In the world of Water, every belief has its space.

Water Poem for Children

Stones-in-waterHi I am Varun

‘Mr Water’ if you please,

I’m here to make new friends

With you and all your buddies.

I’m a quiet kinda guy

So I don’t like to brag;

But fact is I’m a superhero

Better than your comic book gags!

Whoosh ! I can disappear

And envelop you in ghostly mist;

Thunk! I can sink the titanic

With my solid icy fist!

I am a fun filled fella

Come with me for a spin;

Sailing and swimming and flying and skiing’

You name the game and I’m in.

Par Bachchoo apun se panga mat lena!

Mai garam ho gayaa to tera ubla anda banaa doonga

Yaa thand maar ke aadmi ka putlaa banaa doonga

Arre! Apun woh danger cheez hai jiski phook hee railgaadi bhagaa de !

At the risk of sounding arrogant

Let me tell you I’m unique

I’m called the universal solvent

And | expand when I freeze

There’s 344 million cubic miles of me

Unchanged since the earth was made

Of this 315 million cubic miles of sea

3 times more than land

With just 0.5% of me

I slake the thirst of all life;

I’ll bet my last drop

You cant live 5 days without me!

75% of you is me

Just ask you bio teacher

If there can be life without me ?

I live my life on your planet

Over and over again

Mother ice gives birth to a droplet

That bounces into a merry stream

Racing crazily down the mountain

Sneaking around grandpa rocks

And hiding in crevices.

From stream to mighty river

My transformation is complete,

Quiet, strong and nurturing

Life thrives in and around me.

You don’t give a damn about me,

Why else would you dump everyday

2 million tons of waste in me ??

You lock me in cramped dams

And build houses on my beautiful bed.

You suck dry every source

And blacken the little that’s left !

And when I go in hiding

Deep into the earth’s womb

You yank me out mercilessly

To flush out your potty !!

You’ve left me no place to live

Filled up my lakes, ponds and rivers’

You’ve killed my big-bro forests

And now you call me ‘absconder’!!

What I need is a Maneka Gandhi

A ‘ People for Ethical Treatment of Water’

Or ‘Z category’ commando protection

From those I love to serve!!

Bruised, battered, infected and famished

I finally reach the sea

Cuddled deep in its immensity

I wait for the sun to set me free

I ride the flaming sun

Give colour to heaven’s palette

Till I’m born again as a drop.

The Sanitation and Water Challenge in Delhi

Sanitation & water challengeFORCE* is organizing an ‘Expert Dialogue’ titled ‘The Sanitation and Water Challenge in Delhi – With Special reference to Regularization and Resettlement of the Poor’. The Expert Speakers will share their views on the current and expected challenges in providing adequate, sustainable sanitation and Water services to the lesser privileged in Delhi.

FORCE will also share the findings of a recent sample study that was done on Community Toilet complex usage, management, infrastructure and maintenance. The study also analyses the impact of   a ‘Community Toilet Complex Monitoring model’ wherein community members monitor and report on the services provided by the CTC they use.

The objective is to identify challenges in Water and Sanitation and discuss the options for overcoming them. Also the role that each stakeholder needs to play for sustainability

We would like to invite you for this Expert Dialogue. It will be held on July 31, 2013 from 2.30pm to 5.30 pm. at India International Centre (Multipurpose Hall ), Lodhi Road, New Delhi. Your contribution will be valuable for us all.

We look forward to having you join us for the Expert Dialogue. For more information on the program, please feel free to write to me at or call me at 9899812888.

In collaboration with Times of India and with the support of WaterAid India and CASP-Plan


Date: July 31, 2013         Venue: India International Centre, Multipurpose Hall, Lodhi Estate



(With special reference to regularization and resettlement of settlements for the poor)

2.30pm – 3pm          – Registration

3.00pm – 3.30 pm    – Welcome Address and Presentation of CTC Usage survey –   FORCE

3.30 pm – 4.45pm     – Expert views

–  Sh Bal Mukund, Editor, Navbharat Times (will also conduct the dialogue)

– Key Civil Society Concerns in Water and Sanitation planning –  WaterAid India,  GIZ and CASP-Plan

– Sh PK Tripathi – Former Chief Secretary and current Chairman of Public Grievances Committee

Sh S Khan – Chairman, Minorities Commission

Sh Amar Nath – CEO, Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board

Smt Debashree Mukherjee – CEO, Delhi Jal Board

4.45 pm – 5.15 pm   – Interactive session with audience

5.15 pm – 5.30pm    – Vote of thanks and Mementos to Honble Guests

5.30pm onwards  High tea

Excerpt From My Book – WaGu

Water the guruDear Jal Rakshaks,

As I saw more and more of Water in my work for its conservation, I started to see that Water is not a mere ‘resource’. All that you need to learn about living a life well lived, you can learn from Water. I see, Water as my Guru. Please read this excerpt from the first draft of a book I’m writing on it. Please share with me stories, ideas, existential questions….anything…. that you think must be a part of  a book like this. Also please help me find a title for the book ! 

The Guru Revealed Himself to me…..

….In Varanasi. Varanasi is a holy city on the banks of the holy river Ganges. The epicentre of the Hindu religion, the city has temples all around and thousands of people immersing themselves in the Ganga’s holy waters.

This is all about religion, not spirituality“, I thought.

Though there were temples all over, I did not particularly feel closer to God there. The holy river also looked too crowded, too dirty. I was disappointed.

You cannot see Her now. Come tomorrow morning before dawn to see the Mother” I heard someone say behind me. I turned to see a sadhu standing there smiling at me. Before I could think of something to say, he walked away.

So that’s how it came about that I reached the Ganga Ghat early next morning. It was 5.30 a.m. and the ghat was quiet. The sun was not yet up. The river, in the twilight, looked calm and inviting. I felt an intense desire to go deep into it. I looked around and found a boatman to take me for a boatride in the river……

…And, that boatride transformed my life. As the boatman rowed upto the centre of the river, I felt myself getting enveloped in peace. From being the centre of my own universe I felt myself becoming part of an eternal constant flow. The quiet splashing of the oars and the gurglng of the river became a divine music that took me far beyond myself.

I felt the river talk to me. She was part of me.

I looked back towards the ghat. For the first time,I saw it with the eyes of the River. From birth to death, the entire play of human life was being played out there. There was a new born child being baptised, young children frolicking in the shallow Water. The local stall owners were having their daily bath and others were setting up stalls. I saw an old sadhu sat in yogic meditation oblivious to a woman washing her long tresses right next to him. A family offering the ashes of their loved one to the River while the dobhi ghat nearby was slowly filling up with washermen with their load of washing for the day. An old woman begging, a young running into hordes of pigeons to make them fly. And next to all these vignettes of life – a cremation ghat with a pyre still burning. Stacks of wood piled up waiting for their turn to give salvation. The boatman told me that this cremation ghat was part of ancient history – a folktale about Raja Harishchandra.

From birth to death in one blink of the eye. Not in sequence but all happening at the same time. Different faces in different stages – but on the same journey. And watching it all, a quiet, flowing river.

The wisdom of the ages, the combined  life experience of all those who throng the ghats, the birth rites for infinite lives and deliverance for souls of infinite dead….all in that patient, eternal River.

At this very instant, The Sun burst through the horizon in all its radiant glory, as if to bless me in my moment of truth. I sat back to enjoy the naughty flirtation of the oar with the blushing river and the caressing rays. The river became a sprightly, happy, vain young girl playing one suitor against the other. I felt complete – a part of this happy complete picture.

But not for long……  I saw a sewage pipe emptying its black filth into the river. The foam from the washermen’s soaps soon stood on the water like hillocks of cotton.  Garbage floated in the river as the flower sellers threw yesterday’s leftovers into the river. Disturbed by these sights, I felt the magic fading.

Suddenly, the boatman stopped rowing. Startled out of my reverie, I saw him then pick up a bamboo from the base of the boat and throw it into the river.

Almost upturning the boat as I lunged to stop the bamboo from falling into the water,  I shouted at the boatman “Why did you do this? Isnt there enough muck in the river already?”

The boatman looked surprised” Muck? Where? And the bamboo is to help the birds eat” Sure enough, a pigeon flew down and perched himself on the floating bamboo. From this secure perch, he pecked at the invisible floating stuff. ” The birds drown trying to eat from the Water. All of us put these sticks to help Ganga Maiyya feed them.”

‘Ganga Maiyya’ – Mother of a species that lives so comfortably with its contradictions! Men who think nothing of poisoning a River go all out to save a pesky pigeon from drowning!

“I’ve spent the past hour listening to you talk about Ganga Maiyya . If you revere Her so much, why do you people pollute Her ?”I asked the boatman.

The boatman looked at me increulously and replied “Kaisi baat kar rahin hain aap ! How can we pollute Her? She is purity itself! Her divine purity cleanses our souls – how can she be impure?”

Silence – of frustration on my side and complete conviction on his.

The boatman still looked troubled. He asked ” Have you been to ‘Gaumukh’? “

No”, I replied.

He nodded knowingly and continued, ” That’s why you don’t understand! Gaumukh is where the Holy Ganga starts her earthly journey. Through millions of cycles of birth and death, Ganga maiyyaa is reborn every year, as pure as always, from the always pristine Gangotri. You know why that is?”

Of course….glaciers  are…?”I tried to explain about glaciers as  origins of perennial rivers……

The boatman ignored this interruption, “Pollution, of the mind or body, happens when dirt clings to you. Ganga Maiyyaa, takes her Godly form to discard our black sins before her rebirth at Gangotri. She carries the divine knowledge of healing in herself. Even as she flows, she decimates all that is impure.”

He then rummaged around in a cloth bag he had. He fished out an empty plastic bottle, handed it to me and ordered “Fill it with Ganga Jal.”

I look around and gingerly filled the bottle.

Mollified, he smiled and said, “Keep it. You’ll need it for pujas. And see the proof of her purity – the Water will not go bad, however many years you keep it.”

I still have that bottle. It’s been more than 5 years – the Water looks and smells the same.

Science or faith? Does it really matter? What matters is the wisdom of the River which knows what to keep and how.

When we reached the river bank, I got off the boat, thanked the boatman….and then, just sat at the river bank for a long time. I know, the River knew my tumultous thoughts. She kept caressing my feet, spraying mist over my head and making cooing sounds to soothe my soul. Entranced, I watched Her as she weaved her way gracefully but with determination through obstructions.  I traced her cyclical journey from Gaumukh to the sea in my mind.

That day, I understood why the River allows the sacrilege we commit. We invade her space, change her form and sully her, all, in the name of religion or, worse, out of sheer apathy. But, She flows on, unpertubed, because  Her wisdom gives Her empathy. She knows, that our desire for control, comes from our frightening knowledge of our mortality. So, She offers comfort in whicheverway we seek.

The River denies us nothing because….She is secure in Her immortality.

Is God not immortal? Unconditonal love, acceptance and support – forever and ever – Is this not what we ask of our Gods?

The simple boatman, had shown me what I had not seen in all my years of working with Water. He showed me Divinity in Water….

…and if  75% of our body is Water…..then….he showed me….Divinity in Me.

Make God your Guru

Let Him tell you what to do

Listen he’s calling, calling you

Take time to listen

Take courage to obey

The inner voice is calling, calling you

There are voices all around me

My enemies and my friends

Do this, dont do that

The chorus never ends

But i shall always listen to that quiet inner voice

It is swift and definite

And I have made my choice

Make Water your Guru….

My God, My Guru had revealed Himself to me- Water.

© – Jyoti Sharma

Jal Yachana – All Religion Prayer Meeting

Water PrayerIn a unique ceremony, FORCE, has called for citizens, political leaders, religious institutions to cut across all divides and jointly pray to God for alleviating the distress of those suffering because of drought or flood. On 7th of August between 9.30 to 10.30 am, ‘Jal Yachana – Sarva Dharma Prarthana Sabha’ has been organized. An All – Religion Prayer Session where leaders, citizens and children from all over Delhi will gather together to pray to the Almighty to bless the parched Earth with his blessing of Rain.

All are invited to attend the session and work towards water conservation.

Water is not a commodity that we can abuse. It is a life giving blessing that we must re-learn to respect. It knows no colour, caste or religion. Through the JAL YACHANA, not only are we all jointly asking God for his blessing of Water but also we are reminding ourselves to forget all differences and join hands to overcome this crisis.

Water Prayer

 Water Prayer

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