When Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s sailor in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” searched for a tumbler full of water to quench his thirst, he wandered but found not even a drop of water fit to drink. All he found was saline water. Same is the case in my village. Just one mile away from Langate (Handwara), we have muddy water everywhere and not a drop to drink.
Kashmir is blessed with roaring rivulets, crystal-clear canals, lovely freshwater lakes, but the shortage of water in Kashmir’s urban and rural landscape is a question even top environmentalists and climatologists cannot answer. In fact, the qater crisis in Kashmir is getting worse with each passing day. People in my village are facing immense difficulties. Some 30 years ago, water woes started in our hamlet when the Langate-Humpora water pipeline was discontinued. Soon after, the Zagsundri pipeline was started. Water reached every household in the neighbouring villages of Qaziabad belt, such as Gundchabootra, Zagsundri, and Pakhribal, but our village was ignored for reasons better known to the PHE (Jal Shakti) officials of Handwara.
We had repeatedly approached and registered our protests with the local MLA, Engineer Rasheed, the district magistrate and even the former Chief Minister, but nothing came of it. We continue to crave for clean drinking water.
In the last few months, during the lockdown, I tried to think of why my village is bereft of water? For what sin are the about 350 households here being punished? I keenly listened to the sad stories of women who, to fetch a pitcher of clean water, have to brave harsh weather and tread uneven tracks to collect water from a spring or taps in villages of Pandithpora and Nahama. The women traverse frozen and rough roads even in chillai-kalan (the 40 days of harshest winter) to get drinking water. In the hot summers, they are bathed with sweat on the journey. There is no relief for them, come what season.
Many a time I have also seen rowdies on the roads who ogle at the women or pass lewd comments. It boils my blood. Women of all age groups face difficulties in my village just to find water. A girl even during her periods has to walk a mile to get a vessel full of potable water. Even pregnant women and elderly are not spared. There are also girls who are shy and are more concerned about their privacy. Parents feel insecure in sending their daughters them to another village to fetch water. Their concerns are genuine. We are living in dangerous times. Now, even men in our village carry vessels on their shoulders to go fetch them with fresh water.
The Jal Shakti department’s sub-division at Handwara has a water testing laboratory, which declared all of our wells contaminated in 2017. When all options were exhausted, natives tried to access the pipeline passing through our fields. The pipeline transports water to other villages but bypasses our hamlet. A First Information Report (FIR) was lodged against four villagers for this act. I talked to one of them, and he said, “PHE officials themselves handed us stock of necessary pipes. The whole village joined hands to work. After 20 days of continuous hard work, we were barely few meters from our destination when natives of Gundchabootra stopped us. We went to the PHE office and left no stone unturned for a peaceful resolution, but all in vain.”
The accused said that the villagers literally begged for water but the authorities paid no heed. Even in this pandemic we are surviving on unhygienic and contaminated water. Surrounded by lush-green meadows, streams and canals, but sans potable water, the villagers hope against hope that some day soon they will also be able to gulp down fresh clean water.
The writer is a student of Mass Communication and Journalism at Media Education and Research Center, University of Kashmir. firstname.lastname@example.org