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'Jaise paani, waise naari'
Photo by Sindhuja Parthasarathy

Whether Pinku’s ma is coy, annoyed or intimidated, I can’t tell. But I follow her to the village water tank, hoping to build a rapport. She chats on her way back home, Jaise paani, waise naari — Like water, the woman is "life giving," she proclaims. And that’s exactly how women see their gender roles play out in Rajasthan villages. An average of 10 km, 12 hours and 45 litres of water every day, women and girl children on the outskirts of Jaisalmer spend half their lives walking across thorny fields and wastelands carrying and collecting water. Statistics claim that, on an average, a rural woman walks more than 14,000 km a year. While Pinku and her mother walk miles to fetch water, her brother plays cricket. I befriend him and his gang of boys, who are playing cricket right next to the well. I ask them politely if they would like to help the women, and pat comes the reply, “Carry water? How blasphemous! Don’t you think we are men enough?” While integrated community-based Water Resource Management is a step forward in the right direction, we need gender-sensitive policies and legal forums for effective participation from women in decisions on water distribution. This photo-essay analyses the multifarious dimensions of water wars to establish women’s right to water as human rights.

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