Water scarcity not just a headline but a grim reality for the villages in Rajasthan, India and Sindh, Pakistan

By Abdul Latif, Poorvi Gaur, Rishabh Jain and Tamanna Rafique

4 May 2019

Bad water management and decline in groundwater levels have left Rajasthan, India, and Sindh, Pakistan, stuck in a crisis with severe water shortage in villages.Situated 40 kilometres from Karauli city,Rajasthan, India is a village called Omri, which is home to 42 families. They have only one borewell and it takes a minimum of two hours to fill one bucket. “We struggle every day to obtain water for our families. The politicians will never understand our woes, they only care about making money,” says Ranjit Singh, a farmer based in Omri. Rajasthan, the largest state in India, covers 11 percent of the country’s land but the water coverage is a mere two percent in this arid region.

Bordering Rajasthan is Sindh in Pakistan, a province that  faces water shortage. Of the 1.8 million people living in Badin district of Sindh Province, a majority are farmers by profession. The underlying water crisis has given rise to the issue of unemployment as well. “I have plowed my land and now the canal has run out of water. How am I supposed to cultivate my crops? This will cut down our annual production by 70 percent,” says Sardar Meer Ali, resident of Seerani, a village situated in the suburbs of Badin.

The converging politics of unjust water distribution by the governments is the main reason why the villagers of both Rajasthan, as well as Sindh, are facing such a grim crisis. “It is the Sindh Irrigation and Drainage Authority (SIDA) and other influential locals who dictate the water distribution in the state and promote unequal distribution,” says Tanveer Ahmed Arain,President, Badin Press Club.

image2Protest by farmers of  Badin,Pakistan for better access to water.

Protesting against this unequal distribution of resources in Badin, farmers have been on strike since February 2019.The government’s response to this has been slow. “We have no water to drink, the canals are dry. They used to supply water fortnightly and even that was not guaranteed.The filtration plants that were installed by the government to treat saline water have stopped working and the filter plant operator is nowhere to be found,”says Meer Akram, a farmer who has been a part of the protest

A report by The Hisaar Foundation, Pakistan states that only seven percent rural households in Badin had access to tap water. The situation is worse for the neighboring state of Rajasthan, India, where tap water is not even an option for the villagers. “We walk miles and miles every day to access the only well that still has water. We can only carry two pots at a time and we end up making multiple trips throughout the day and night and waste all our lives searching for water in the scorching heat,” says Narayani Devi, a resident of Hallapuri, Rajasthan. Amidst this struggle, there are some organizations and individuals in both India and Pakistan who trying to help the villagers to tackle this crisis.

Narayani Devi walks miles every day to fetch water(Location-Hallipura, Rajasthan, India)

Chaman Singh, popularly known as the ‘waterman’ of Rajasthan,India, is known for his work in the Karauli district of Rajasthan. He can often be found sitting on a charpoy bed during  hot summer afternoons, imploring the locals to let him help them build pokhars(man-made ponds) and pagaras(small irrigation channels) to practice rainwater harvesting.

image5.jpgChaman Singh with a group of villagers at Karauli,Rajasthan

image1Chaman Singh standing beside a newly built pagar or human made pond. (Location-Omri,Rajasthan)

“I quit my government job and joined Tarun Bharat Sangh,an NGO that works in the water sector in 1993 because I saw how this crisis was affecting people at the ground level. .Traditional methods of restoring groundwater are the most effective and with the implementation of recent technology, a lot can be done to revive the barren lands of Rajasthan.”

Over 29 years, Chaman Singh, through his association with the Tarun Bharat Sangh has helped build 4,500 johads (earthen check dams) in 1,050 villages of Rajasthan, regenerating 6,500 square kilometers of land for agriculture. According to Mukesh Singh, a volunteer who works with Chaman Singh, the involvement of the villagers in the process of building and harvesting is what makes it work.“When we let the villagers take the matters in their hands, our results reflect what the government policies overlook”, he adds.

“The government chooses a location as per its convenience without checking the water levels to build wells and then, the wells runs dry.Here, we work together with Chaman ji as one team and hence,the Pokhars continue to serve for years,”says 70-year-old farmer,Sridhar from Manakho village,who recently cultivated wheat for the very first time in his life.Before this restoration, all that the farmers in this area could grow were millets and hay for the cattle.

Like Tarun Bharat, it is the Badin Bachao Committee that is standing beside the villagers of Sindh,Pakistan,helping them to deal with  the government and water mafias for the control over the only natural canal which has water. Mr. Azizullah Dero, a member of the Committee has been fighting for the rights of rural Sindh to equal distribution of water. “We walk miles from our villages to Badin City to lodge our protest every day and we will not stop until our villages get the water they deserve,” he says.

image4Water Bodies are running dry in Badin,Pakistan

While the villages of Rajasthan are still hopeful about the restoration of groundwater, the villagers across borders in Sindh,Pakistan are stuck in a fight for access to water. The continued negligence of governments of both the countries has, of course, cast a spell of despair amidst the rural farmers of Rajasthan and Sindh.Even after 73 years of independence, the farmers of India and Pakistan like Sardar Meer Ali(resident of Seerani, Sindh) or  Babu Kaka(resident of Hallipura, Rajasthan), wake up every morning dreaming of a day when the governments would finally hear their woes and help them overcome this humanitarian crisis.



Towards a better future: Community efforts towards financial freedom for women.


Anwiti singh, Gourav Gandhi, Syed Omer, Yumna Ahmad

According to the world bank, only 27% women in India, and 22% women in Pakistan officially partake in any formal economic activity. Such statistics make it clear that women have largely been missing from the work front in the two countries. According to Development economist Jayati Ghosh, women’s participation in the workspace can be a good indicator of status of women in a particular society. If participation of women in the workforce increases, it will have multiple positive effects. Issues like wage-gap and gender-based discrimination will go down. But that is easier said than done. There are multiple socio-economic, cultural, and religious barriers between women and their financial independence. In both India and Pakistan, lack of proper education or even freedom to venture out on their own are major issues for women, especially in rural areas .

As per the census reports of India and Pakistan, female literacy rate is 64.8 percent (India) and 45% (Pakistan) With statistics like these, participation of women in the formal work-force becomes even more difficult. But entrepreneurship is one area where a degree isn’t necessary. All it requires is one’s own skills and a little financial support. And for the rural women in both countries, one of the most successful ways to save some money or start a venture is the concept of ‘self-help groups’. Self Help Groups (SHGs) are small financial intermediary committees. SHGs promote small monthly savings among their members. The savings are kept with the bank in most cases, depending on their need. This is the common fund in the name of the SHG and the president/cashier of the group may give small loans to its members from it.

But what about the women who are not a part of any SHG? How can they follow their dreams  of entrepreneurship? This is where various non-government organisations come into play. Many NGOs lend a helping hand to the rural women by generating awareness, facilitating loans, or giving direct funding to those in need. Kashf foundation and Abhivyakti are two such organisations that are helping the rural women of Pakistan and India lead better, financially stable lives.

Kashf foundation, based in Karachi, acts like a micro-financing institution and training centre for rural women in Pakistan. Abhivyakti, based in Delhi, works mostly in Northern states of India where they act as an intermediary between rural women and government institutions (like National Bank for Agricultural and Rural Development or NABARD). Both of these foundations have one common aim- financial empowerment of rural women.

The micro-finance route for entrepreneurship.

Microfinancing, or microcredit, is a way to provide capital to small business owners who don’t have access to traditional banking sources. This form of loans generally do not involve collateral and can be beneficial for rural women.

Kashf foundation is a non-banking microcredit institution in Pakistan, and the first of its kind according to the founder. The foundation helps women micro-entrepreneurs through a set of financial and non-financial products and services, keeping in view the special challenges and hurdles that women face in low-income communities.

“Our vision and mission is to strive for a poverty-free and gender equitable society. Our goal is to empower women by enabling them to become active agents of social and economic change in the society,” says Kashf founder Roshaneh Zafar.

The main focus of Kashf is microfinancing, where they provide women entrepreneurs with financial support to start their venture. People from the foundation go door to door, asking women if they need loans.

One of the 30,000 women, who have had the opportunity to feel empowered with the help of Kashf, is Khalida, 47 who lives in Thatta with her husband and two children. Soon after marrying her cousin in Punjab, she had shifted to Thatta with her family in search of  a better fortune. 

Khalida KASHF 2Khalida at her store.

“I was always intrigued by the embellishments (laces, motifs and colourful accessories) women put in their dresses, so I went to the market to buy such things. I started selling them through my home. Then, Kashf foundation reached out to me and my life drastically changed,” she said. As she got the first loan, she bought cosmetic items such as face washes, soaps, henna, shampoos and conditioners to sell at her home-based store. She then collaborated with different tailors in the region to make customised dresses for women so that they “would not feel any lesser than urban and modern women.”

She strongly believes women need to stand firm along with their husbands to earn for the family. When she started her business, her brothers criticized her. But now, she is happy to have proven them wrong, as she earns almost as much as them. She plans to take her third installment of the loan from KASHF foundation to set up a shop for her husband. Her children are going to a reputed private school in Thatta. She says she has enough amount left after paying back the loans.  

Like Khalida,  Marvi, 52 also lives in the province of Sindh but in Badin. She started making parandas while she was still an adolescent. She got married at the age of 18. However, she did not give up her passion; she continues to sell parandas to women who live nearby. When she came to know of KASHF, she applied for the loan without thinking twice. As soon as she got the loan, she decided to expand her business to other cities of Sindh. She has recently decided to take the third and last loan from Kashf foundation after paying back her previous two loans. Talking about Sindh government’s Benazir Income Support Program, she says, “Although government representatives came twice, I still have no card and no one ever came to facilitate me with any governmental grant.”

However, the advisor to Chief Minister Sindh, Murtaza Wahab says the government of Sindh has helped numerous women via Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP). The government of Pakistan led by Pakistan People’s Party had launched BISP in July 2008. It was passed by the parliament in 2010 and was called as the Benazir Income Support Programme Act 2010. “The idea behind BISP was to prepare a list of women living in rural areas and giving them certain amounts through bank transfer so that they could feel empowered,” he adds.  

                  Abhivyakti, teaching women the power of community through SHGs

SHG meeting SamraliAn SHG meeting at Samrali, Punjab, India.

While Kashf helps women by direct financial support, i.e. loans, Abhivyakti in India works a little differently. Inspired by the Gandhian philosophies of his late father, Shailendra Kumar Singh started the Abhivyakti foundation in 2000. The foundation is involved in Health & Sanitation, Education, Women & Child Development, Livelihood, Skill Development programmes etc.  For their skill development and SHG programmes, Abhivyakti foundation has been working with National Bank for Agricultural and Rural Development (NABARD) since 2012.

“It started with our SHG programme in Jalandhar. Now we have multiple clusters all across the state and each has 10-15 SHGs. Our skill development programme was also financed by NABARD. They gave us around Rs. 80,000 as grant and approximately three lakhs as loan (which we paid with interest). With this grant, we started a stitching training programme for Nehru Jackets. Around 25 ladies were trained and we hired the best of them to work at our production centre here,’ says Amritpal Singh, regional director of Abhivyakti, Punjab, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh division.

Chandravati, who was trained by Abhivyakti and now works at their production centre in Palwal, Haryana, says she has gained a lot from this programme. ‘I work here, making shopping bags and ladies purses (at the production centre) from morning till afternoon. They pay me anywhere from Rs. 15 to Rs. 50 per bag, depending on its size. And because they gave the stitching training, I take private commissions to stitch salwar-kameez at home,’ she says.  Chandravati is the sole earning member in a family of seven. Her husband was left paralysed after an accident ten years ago.

Abhivyakti’s journey began in Punjab, with their coordinators going around various small villages, creating awareness about the benefits of Self-help groups.  SHGs have emerged as an effective way of promoting entrepreneurship and self-confidence among women, particularly in rural areas. In the small village of Samrali, Punjab, Kulvinder Kaur is a member of Jai Mata Di AF, one of the many SHGs in the area. She always had a knack for cooking, and with a little financial help from the SHG and Abhivyakti, she now sells pickles for a living. “They set up a stall for me at the Suraj Kund Mela. And I made a lot of contacts. Last year, I sold twenty kilograms of pickles because of it.’

Like the many other women of the SHGs, Kulvinder has also taken financial help from the SHG. When her husband was ill, the members loaned her the money from their savings at just 1% interest.

Every member in an SHG contributes a fixed monthly amount to the group savings, in case of Kulvinder (Punjab) and Chandravati (Haryani), it is Rs. 200 per month. There is a cashier and a president appointed by the group which takes care of the savings and keeps the record books. Whenever a member is in need of money, they can inter-loan each other. If they don’t have that amount, the SHG collectively takes a loan from banks, and repays it with the interest paid by the debtor.

Skill development for true independence

A big hurdle in women employment in rural areas is a lack of higher education. One way they can overcome this weakness is by developing vocational skills. Skill development is something both Kashf and Abhivyakti advocate for. If the women have skills, they can choose to either start their own business or work for an existing one.

Since 2014, Kashf’s Vocational skill trainings have been equipping women micro-entrepreneurs with industry level skills to help increase their employability. Their training programmes include- tailoring, embellishment, beautician work and football stitching. Some of their training programmes are supported by the Punjab Skills Development Fund, the Coca-Cola Company, and other corporations.

Abhivyakti started their training camps in 2015, in collaboration with NABARD. In the first year, it was centred around training women to stitch the signature politician jackets popular in India called Nehru jackets. After the success of their first training programme, they conducted multiple training programmes, and set up many production units for jute bags, jacket stitching, canvas bag, and phulkari (a traditional embroidery style of Punjab) all across Punjab and Haryana. Each training programme can last between fifteen days to a month, depending on the art being taught there. Most of the women in these training camps come via the SHGs established with the help of Abhivyakti.

Training programme AbhivyaktiOne of the Abhivyakti training programmes in Moga, Punjab. The production centre here specialises in jute and canvass products.

The future

While NGOs like Kashf and Abhivyakti are doing their best to promote women participation in the workforce at the ground level, we still need the government bodies to be involved at the all the levels. The efforts of NGOs cannot replace a need for a proper government framework. There is a need for policies, schemes, and awareness programmes run by various institutions to promote women employment and entrepreneurship. “As long as the government isn’t taking dedicated steps, the condition of women representation in the work-force cannot be improved. Having a few schemes on paper to support women isn’t enough,” says Jayati Ghosh. In the meanwhile, the conscious efforts of NGOs and general public awareness can help to create a plan for a future where equal participation of men and women in the workforce can become a reality.  

Delhi and Karachi struggle to cope with glaring water crisis

By Abdul Latif, Poorvi Gaur, Rishabh Jain and Tamanna Rafique

2 May 2019

A normal day at Sangam Vihar, one of New Delhi’s many water-deprived slums, starts with uncertainty among residents, as they wait for the arrival of Delhi Jal Board Tanks which have the task of distributing water in this area. On fortunate days the trucks arrive after a wait of around two hours. As soon as the trucks reach, the gathering turns into a brawl as people await their turn for the water pipe.  

“There is a huge shortage of water. We don’t know if the water that comes is even clean but we don’t have many options..The water tank comes only once a week and even that is not for sure,” says Afsana, a resident of Sangam Vihar.

image3Sangam Vihar, New Delhi

According to a report published by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in 2018, Afsana represents a shocking 163 million of the total population of India, who till date, struggle to attain their constitutional right to safe drinking water (Article 27) (1)(b). A similar crisis resonates in Karachi, Pakistan. Shafiq Ahmed, a resident of Ali Nagar, Karachi leaves his house at 7 AM every day, in search of water. This often means him getting late for work and sometimes, even wasting his entire day in search of water for his family. The World Bank categorizes Pakistan as a severely water-stressed country.

With the increase in unchecked urbanization in India and Pakistan, lack of water is a major issue in cities. The Composite Water Management Index(2018) states that Delhi will run out of groundwater by 2020. Unregulated slums such as Sangam Vihar(New Delhi) and Orangi Town(Karachi) bear the brunt of unequal distribution of water in both cities. As a result, the residents of these colonies in Delhi and Karachi are forced to depend upon illegal tankers. The residents of Karachi pay 21 USD monthly, whereas in Delhi residents pay close to 7 USD.

Resident, Orangi Town, Karachi

One of the major reasons for this dire crisis is the wastage of water that occurs across the major metropolitan cities of developing countries. According to reports by NITI Aayog (2017), Delhi loses 40 percent of its water to pipe leaks. The water supply system is old and the broken pipelines are left to rot at the hands of the municipal corporations. Mismanagement of water is a major threat to the water economy of Karachi, as well. “Karachi requires its water supply network to be maintained, avoiding leakage of water which causes millions of gallons water wastage,” says Dr. Noman Ahmed, Dean, Faculty of Architecture at NED University, Karachi.

The water resources are depleting and there is an increase in consumers and effective utilization is the only way forward.Mr.S.K Goyal, Head, Council of Scientific & Industrial Research-National Environmental Engineering Research Institute(NEERI), New Delhi, stresses on the need to treat sewage water as he points out that most upper-class urban households in Delhi and Karachi, use RO purifiers that generate huge amounts of wastewater.“Reusing reject-water can cut down the city’s fresh water requirement. We need to aware our citizens of budgeting water consumption at each level,” he says.

image2Sewage-waste treatment can improve the roads & restore groundwater in Orangi Town, Karachi.

In places like Sangam Vihar, shopkeepers fill unsealed plastic bottles and sell them as mineral water. The reason why the residents of both cities have to rely on illegal water tanks and bottled water is the deplorable quality of groundwater. Report by the World Bank(2019) states that poor groundwater quality and lack of wastewater treatment cause water-borne diseases that kill 110 children in Pakistan every day. “Our kids fall ill every day after drinking this saline water, the water trucks demand huge bribes..It has been five years since we last saw clean water,” says Mumtaaz, mother of three and resident,Orangi Town, Karachi. Sangam Vihar resident and father of two, Kanhaiya too, worries about his children who end up visiting the doctor more than their classrooms due to frequent water infections.

image4Plastic tanks and bottles are the most profitable business ventures in Delhi’s Sangam Vihar.

Irregularity of tanks is a common phenomenon across borders(Location: Harkesh Nagar, New Delhi).

Any improvement in the current water situation in both cities can only occur through a revamp of the current water policies of Delhi and Karachi. “In order to meet the challenges, there needs to be a shift in the way we manage urban water systems. Integrated Urban Water Management approach must be adopted by these cities which involves managing freshwater, wastewater, and stormwater, using an urban area as the unit of management,” says Mr.Qazi Syed Wamiq Ali, Research Associate, TERI, India. Mr.Ali’s call to action must raise concerns as now is the only time left to act upon this humanitarian crisis before it becomes a lost battle.

India and Pakistan: Divided By Borders United By Hunger

Amandeep Singh, Ila Kazmi, Hannan Zafar, Waqar Hussain & Fatima Sheikh


Twenty-seven-year-old Madhu, was first tied and then brutally beaten to death by a mob in the southern Indian state of Kerala. His fault? Allegedly stealing food worth $3! In a similar accident, a few years back in 2011, a video appeared showing a Pakistani teen being chased and shot twice for stealing food.

Even seven decades after freedom, hunger crisis continues to haunt India and Pakistan. Successive regimes on both sides of the border have tried to bring about massive policy changes and improve the living standards of its citizens. However, both countries have failed to produce major breakthroughs, particularly in hunger alleviation According to State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017 report, out of the 850 million hungry people in the world, 300 million are from India and Pakistan alone. This is despite the fact that both countries produce surplus food. “Problem arises owing to deficiencies in policy implementation and distribution rather than production,” says Khurshid Ahmad, a senior official working in Government of India’s food distribution department.

Continue reading India and Pakistan: Divided By Borders United By Hunger

70 years after independence, Delhi’s taste-buds want more from Pakistan’s kitchen

Pakistani biryani at Deez Cafe

Midhat Fatimah and Rajat Mishra

The surge in the number of desk-workers foraging new exotic food outlets has boosted the restaurant business in Delhi, Connaught Place being the hub. However, interestingly, menus of many restaurants have Pakistani dishes. A few restaurants serving North Indian and Mughlai cuisine have added Pakistani food items.

Deez Filmy Café and Bar in Connaught Place specialises in Handi Biryani (Biryani cooked in an earthen pot) and serves North Indian and fast food with a punch of Bollywood in its setting. Food is served in a hall with walls adorned with posters of famous dialogues from Bollywood movies while contemporary Punjabi and Western music plays in the background. The menu offers a range of items including Pakistani food items like Sindhi Biryani and a gravy dish called Pakistani Chicken Masala which has a paneer variant too.

Continue reading 70 years after independence, Delhi’s taste-buds want more from Pakistan’s kitchen

In the subcontinent, the ‘third gender’ struggles to exist

Anubhav Chakerabarty, Akhilesh Nagari, Basit, Jahanzeb Tahir & Sara Tanveer

The transgender community was recognized as a ‘third gender’ in India in 2014.  In contemporary India, although events like queer parades and informal meeting spaces offer a much-needed gathering space and platform to talk about LGBTQ issues, several issues continue to plague the transgender community.  

Class Divide

Anita, a trans woman, who came to Delhi from Darbhanga 15 years ago, still finds it difficult to make her ends meet. Financial security is one of the several problems that the transgender community faces.

Continue reading In the subcontinent, the ‘third gender’ struggles to exist

Qawwali continues to connect India and Pakistan


Eisha Hussain and Intifada Bashir

“Chhaap Tilak Sab Cheeni Re…..” is a composition that resonates with Indians as much as it does with Pakistanis. A Qawwali, within the ambit of Sufi devotional music, it epitomes the art works under the syncretic tradition of Sufism. Pioneered by Amir Khusrow about 700 years ago, Qawwali has managed to survive the tests of time.

For Qawwali — that originated in undivided India — 1947 was a landmark year. Although Amir Khusrow’s disciples (Qawwal Bache) kept the tradition alive for centuries, the partition forced qawwals to migrate to cities across India and Pakistan. As a result of this migration, Qawwali diversified and spread further across both countries. Continue reading Qawwali continues to connect India and Pakistan

Transport woes in Delhi and Karachi


Majid Alam, Ghada Mohammed, Hasan Akram & Hasan Haider

Buses and Metro in Delhi account for a total ridership of around 6 million a day. Inspite of a huge public transport system, the city struggles to cope up with the rising population. The buses in Delhi are run on Compressed Natural Gas, a less polluting fuel, and are owned by Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC), and under private owners. Delhi Metro is a system of modern train communication that started in 2002 and currently carries around 3 million people daily.

Continue reading Transport woes in Delhi and Karachi

Pakistani fashion a hit in India

Sania Ashraf and Yash Shukla

Amongst many things that tie women of India and Pakistan together, their love for Pakistani suits features on top of the list. India is no stranger to producing high quality ethnic Salwaar-Suits; but the ones that Pakistan offers are simply too outstanding to ignore. “Pakistani suits are fresh and stylish and putting them on makes you stand out,” says Asmita, a 27-year-old PhD scholar and a fashion enthusiast.

Vogue for Pakistani suits started a decade back. It got a further impetus when Pakistani serials started getting aired on Indian television. “Through television, commonalities between the two countries were brought to fore. Pakistani styles are different from the ones prevalent here, hence the craze,” says Nayanika Thakur, Fashion coordinator at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), New Delhi.

Continue reading Pakistani fashion a hit in India

In Delhi and Karachi, a struggle to breathe

Air pollution 2

Akshata Mishra and Azam Abbas

KC Bhatia and Madhu Bhatia, both octogenarians, who live in South Delhi’s Hauz Khas area, are dependent on nebulisers. Bhatia, who is fond of long walks, now restricts himself to his house and avoids opening windows — courtesy Delhi’s air pollution.

The Bhatias don’t have to venture out for work; however thousands in India’s capital Delhi brave the toxic air everyday as they step out of their homes. Gouhar Ali, who works as a gardener, battles Delhi’s air every winter as he leaves home for work. A couple of years back, Ali had to be admitted in the hospital for three days and could only breathe through an oxygen mask.

Continue reading In Delhi and Karachi, a struggle to breathe