By Ankita Menon
Ankita worked on this research project as part of Water Seeker Fellowship 2020, a collaborative initiative of the Living Waters Museum and Social and Political Research Foundation.
In the Kaladera village of Jaipur’s Chomu Tehsil in Rajasthan, pyayu form a significant part of the community culture. Pyayus are earthen pots storing drinking water for public consumption.
Although they look similar to commonly found matkas — earthen pots that are kept inside one’s home for private consumption of drinking water — pyayus represent the community’s collective welfare ethics. In a desert state, keeping a pyayu outside the house for public water consumption is considered a noble act by the villagers.
Furthermore, they also differ from matkas in assemblage. Pyayus are collections of four (or sometimes six) earthen pots installed in common spaces like market areas and roadsides, filled by the owner either once or twice a day, depending on the season.
The main motive is to make drinking water available and accessible to travellers, passers-by, or anyone in need of water. Another aim is to maintain the ‘ethic’ of treating drinking water as a ‘gift’ alive as it stems from the region’s water-scarce past and several religious roots.
With increasing industrialisation, Kaladera has witnessed the commercialisation and commodification of drinking water in the form of Kinley bottles manufactured by the Coca-Cola plant in the village. Despite the Central Groundwater Board declaring Kaladera’s watershed an overexploited zone in 1998, water-intensive industries like Coca-Cola were given a green signal in the early 2000s. The presence of the industrial park has led to further groundwater depletion, something the villagers have continued to resist through preserving pyayus and the culture of water sharing.
Relevance of pyayu in the times of water scarcity in the village
In a village where earthen pots occupy a central place in their culture, it becomes imperative to understand their role, especially as the community faces a growing water crisis. This research finds that even while traditional ways of fetching water have modernised, paving the way for tapped water supplies and new material forms of water storage (plastic bottles, cans, refrigerators) in a usual household, the presence of earthen pots is still an essential feature of every home. The reasons for such a choice are manifold:
- Taste: Many believe that the taste of water kept in an earthen pot satiates one’s thirst in a way no refrigerator or bottled water can. This is a significant reason why households that have refrigerators still keep matkas and choose to drink from them instead.
- Purity: It is believed that the maati (Rajasthani for soil or clay used to make the earthen pot) naturally filters the water kept in the earthen pot. As the name suggests, matka means ‘maati ka’ that is, made of earth or earthen soil which filters the excessive dissolved salts and solvents, and even fluoride from the water, making it safe for consumption. While an increasing number of well-off households install Reverse Osmosis (RO) purifying machines, many continue to depend on matkas as nature’s purifier.
- Affordability: Many communities still living in jhuggis (kuccha houses) with no access to piped water, let alone refrigeration. For instance, the people of Banjara and the Rana community find it hard to establish access to drinking water. The women and children of such communities cover a distance of 1-2 km every day to fetch water from a source. In such cases, matkas are an affordable and sustainable alternative to water storage for most.
Recommendations and Policy Measures
Given the diverse nature of India’s land and waterscapes, it is impossible to devise a uniform strategy or plan of action, especially for over-exploited zones. There is a requirement for grassroots policy solutions to abate the growing water crisis.
As mentioned earlier, the Kaladera watershed is a declared overexploited zone facing water-intensive industries that worsen the water stress on the locals. Industries like Pernod Ricard, Rajasthan liquors, Bhagwati paper mills, and others thrive in the industrial area by exploiting groundwater and need an urgent sustainability review to manage their negative environmental impact on the region.
There is also a lack of research around earthen pots, the clay used in making them, and its role in making water safer for consumption. Apart from looking at it just as a tradition, more empirical research is required to discover the science behind it and include the use of earthen pots as sustainable technology. Recent studies in September 2018 by IIT-Jodhpur¹ and Kofa et al² shift the paradigm and look at earthen pots as scientific tools to purify water rather than just cultural or traditional artefacts of water storage. Potter-made water filtration technology has been in the news ever since Dr. Raj Kumar Satankar’s thesis on ‘Local soil and organic waste composites and ceramics of Western Rajasthan’³ has gained acclaim among many.
Similar efforts can be used to introduce and scale-up rainwater harvesting models at a village level alongside introducing less water-intensive crop plantations.Only such collective measures can address the water stress and public health crisis in areas such as Kaladera. The presence of fluoride beyond the permissible limit causes severe health (dental, skeletal, cardio-vascular) issues. Affordable public or community-driven infrastructure that provides safe drinking water to everyone is the need of the hour.
¹ See TOI report on IIT-J: Rajasthani Clay can remove fluoride from the ground w ..Read more at: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/65802911.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst
² Read the paper Removal of Fluoride from Water by Adsorption onto Fired Clay Pots: Kinetics and Equilibrium Studies available at https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jac/2017/6254683/
³ Satankar, R.K., Local Soil and Organic Waste Based Composites and Ceramics of Western Rajasthan, IIT-Jodhpur https://iitj.ac.in/department/index.php?id=research_highlights_and_initiatives&num=253&dept=me
Ankita Menon is pursuing her PhD at the Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi