Along the Betwa – Part 9: Basaria to Jamouri

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]In late 2018, along with our partners Out of Eden Walk, we floated a call for applications to Veditum’s first Moving Upstream fellowship programme focussed on River Betwa. The objective – to walk along stretches of the Betwa and document the river and life around it. Radhika Singh and Shail Joshi were two of the four fellows selected for the program.

They started from Hamirpur, a city in Uttar Pradesh, where the Betwa merges with the Yamuna. Then, they traveled onwards to Bandhouli, close to the confluence of the Betwa and Dhasan rivers. The entire journey, around 130 kilometers, was carried out on foot. Joshi and Singh depended on villages along the way for food and accommodation.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”3835″ add_caption=”yes”][vc_custom_heading text=”Life by the river”][vc_empty_space height=”16px”][vc_column_text]The walk the next day from Basaria to the next village, Jamouri, continued to be laborious. It was rocky and sandy, and with every step our backpacks grew heavier. We met a sheepherder on the way. Until now we had seen only goat herders: studies showed that in the Bundelkhand region, more than 75 per cent of rural households reared goats as part of a mixed farming system.

There were some hutments by the river, and we stopped at one of them to talk to the people there. It was made of hay and bamboo, and had just enough space for two people to sleep. The inside of the hut was very rudimentary – there was a single cot and small utensils scattered on the floor. The two men living there said they farmed vegetables on small plots by the river and went back to Jamouri, the village they were from, every few days. During the monsoon, when they could not farm anymore, they said they did not work at all. They did not mention MNREGA as a feasible employment option.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”3829″ add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]Walking around their plot of land, we spotted two types of chuees. A chuee is typically a hole dug in the ground where fresh ground water can collect. The first type of chuee was for watering plants. The hole was bolstered by a mesh made of thin strips of bamboo, and the water that collected in it was slightly muddy. The second type of chuee was made with a metal pipe that did not allow any dirt inside. This was for drinking water.

A few other families dotted the banks of the river. A couple of children swam happily, turning somersaults and splashing water on each other. Their mother, who was washing clothes on the edge of the river, kept a close eye on them. She had just bathed; her hair was wet. It was the first time we saw how people lived before hand pumps made it unnecessary to go all the way to the river to bathe and wash. Now, people – especially women – might go weeks without seeing the river that was just a kilometer or so away from them. After talking with her, we learned that, along with her husband, she was a laborer on farms along the river. [/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”3836″][vc_custom_heading text=”Caste, water and cattle”][vc_empty_space height=”16px”][vc_column_text]

We reached Jamouri just before sunset, passing by a massive pit made by sand mining that was so old that wild grasses had taken over. A large borewell and a pipe that was badly leaking water led us through what we guessed were the pradhan’s fields. It turned out we were right. As we had seen in most of the villages we visited, the pradhan’s family was, without question, always the richest. No one would be able to afford a borewell besides the pradhan.

The pradhan’s house was large and close to a lake in the center of the village. Trash dotted the area outside. We sat down just outside his house and a large crowd gathered, bouncing question after question at us. The pradhan himself did not say much. He was a reserved man, and let the others do the talking. He did claim, though, rather surprisingly, that the village had no water problems. When prodded further, he admitted that the water table was falling drastically but that his borewell still drew enough water to irrigate the fields.

Government studies show that groundwater makes up the vast majority of water used in irrigation in Bundelkhand. In some districts, up to 98% of water used in agriculture is drawn from borewells. With only the more privileged sections of society able to afford borewells, access to groundwater is characterized by high levels of inequality. Most people have to rely on surface water or seasonal rains.

Much of the conversation that evening revolved around the problem of wild cattle. When the Uttar Pradesh government made slaughterhouses illegal, people could not sell their bulls and older cows anymore. Not wanting to take care of them, they simply let them free. Raising cattle was an expensive exercise. This resulted in thousands of cattle rampaging through people’s fields, especially at night, trying to find food to eat. In the other villages, people dealt with the problem by sending a family member to sleep in their field at night to chase them away.

[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”3832″ add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1594540235374{background-color: #efefef !important;}”]Jamouri had a much more innovative way of dealing with the problem. Three men from three houses would herd the wild animals into a pen for the night, and guard it. The next day, three men from different families would do the same. That way, each man would only have to spend the night in the fields once every three months, rather than every day. If only this solution could be made known to other villages in the area, we thought. The pradhan from Basaria, just a few kilometres away, had complained bitterly about having to deal with the bulls night after night.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”3833″ add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]We also talked about the general problems of Bundelkhand. “Development always comes last to Bundelkhand,” the pradhan said. “We do not have leaders of our own and have to depend on people from the outside to carry out projects in our interest. It would be good if Bundelkhand became a factory area so that we can get jobs that are close by”. There was a clear fear about the future. As one of the women living in the pradhan’s house said, “In our lifetimes, we will see the Betwa disappear altogether.”[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”3834″][vc_separator][vc_column_text]This article is part of a series, describing the journey and observations from the walk undertaken by Radhika Singh & Shail Joshi. New parts of the series will be published on www.veditum.org every Sunday. Series editor: Rathnavel Pandian

This series is also available in a book format. Interested readers/book reviewers/publishers may write to contact@veditum.org for access.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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