In September last year, 14-year-old Meena (name changed) from the Sansi Dalit caste, was abducted and gang raped by four Rajput men when she stepped outside her house to perform morning ablutions. They later dumped her outside her house before registering an FIR against her name for committing theft in their house. The charges were condemned by the Sansi community and the girl sent to her relative’s place after the medical report confirmed rape.
The incident where this took place, Kalayat in Haryana’s Kaithal district is dominated by the Rajputs with Dalits, particularly Sansis constituting 25 per cent of the village population. Denial of basic facilities such as drinking water or absence of toilets here like several other villages requires minor girls like Meena to walk long distances every day. Dalit women also succumb to atrocities by upper caste communities as most of times the source of drinking water is located in the upper caste fields.
This issue explains the underlying inter-linkages between caste dynamics, lack of basic amenities and the patriarchal character of society. Drinking water and sanitation are the most critical issues that impact women’s lives corresponding to healthcare facilities, education, shelter, livelihood and security. It is the presence and absence of these indicators that symbolises the course of development, especially gender inclusive ‘development’. In most parts of the country, absence of water and sanitation puts women, especially Dalit women, in a vulnerable situation. Walking several miles to fetch water or for toilet often results in incidents of harassment in rural areas.
According to an article by Alexandra Barton on the water project, Indian women in rural regions can walk up to an average of 10 miles a day, carrying up to 15 litres every trip.” The Human Development Report, 2006, states “Women in Africa and Asia often carry water on their heads weighing 20 kg, the same as the average U.K. airport luggage allowance.”
As a society, we are living on a paradox where women continue to invest time and labour but receive the minimum possible returns. The issue gets further complicated when viewed from a marginalised perspective. A report published on Caste Discrimination against Dalits by Center for Human Rights and Global Justice and Human Rights Watch way back in 2007 described that “Dalits are denied equal access to a spectrum of places and services intended for use by the general public, such as police stations, government ration shops, post offices, schools, water facilities and village council offices. As a result of segregation in water facilities, more than 20 per cent of Dalits do not have access to safe drinking water, only ten per cent of Dalit households have access to sanitation (as compared to 27 per cent for non-Dalit households), and the vast majority of Dalits depend on the ‘goodwill’ of upper-caste community members for access to water from community wells”.
The figures from Census 2011 provide a meaningful insight into current socio-economic scenario of India. Only 43.5 per cent of households have access to tap water and only 32 per cent have water from treated sources while 11.6 per cent continue to draw from untreated sources. Glancing at the Census 2011 data for Scheduled Caste population, it clearly indicates that there has not been much progress in condition of Dalits since 2007. The total population for SC households in rural areas is 32,919,665 of which only 63,48,622 have access to tap water from a treated source. About 4,219,829 SC households till today continue to draw tap water from untreated sources. As far as sanitation in rural SC households is concerned, only 7,520,933 families have latrine facilities within the premises. It is shocking to see that there are about 47,736 households in rural areas and 16,375 in urban areas where night soil continues to be removed by humans.