By Dr. Mansee Bal Bhargava
Wednesdays.for.Water (WfW) is a think tank and communication series initiated as a citizen’s collective. The idea of the WfW is to connect the water worries, wisdoms, and the warriors through dialogues/discussions/debates.
On January 05, WfW shall step into its month nine of webinar series happening every Wednesday at 5.00pm. Prof. Anil K Gupta, Padma Shri will join as a keynote speaker to talk about ‘Grassroot Innovations in Water Management- part II’. The December 29 session felicitated by Dr. Anil Prakash Joshi, Padma Bhushan, with a keynote speech on, ‘Grassroot Innovations in Water Management-part I’ was the completion of the eight months and the 2021. We started on April 28 of 2021 also with a keynote speech by Dr. Rajendra Singh, the Water Man of India, talking about ‘Water Management in the Grassroot Level’.
In these thirty-five weeks with thirty-one sessions, several topics are discussed spanning from the hard sessions like,
- Forest and Water
- Gender, Water and Climate Change
- Jal Satyagraha
- Jal Swaraj
- Ocean- Life and Livelihoods
- Riverfront Developments in India
- Water and Agriculture
- Water and Heritage
- Water and Youth
- Water Education in/for Higher Studies- I
- Water Sensitive Planning
and the abovementioned to the soft sessions like,
- Every Trickle Counts
- Hey Nade Sarite
- MATI- Land, Floods and Displacement
- River of Stories by Orijit Sen
As WfW looks strong to for the next some months, it is a hope to reach hundred sessions as per the conceptualisation. In this article, I wish to share the 5Ws (why, what, when, where, who) of WfW in order to chart a way forward with all those who think of water matters.
For any work, why is the soul and I shall spend my energy and emotion in writing this part as the remaining sections (Ws) are more of complementing this section. The soul of WfW lies in the presumption that water needs to be talked more than it is done in order to make water everybody’s business through increasing the water literacy both among the water literates and the aspirants. Wait, there is more to why.
Water distress and resilience building are regular discourses globally, regionally, and locally. In India, the water distress seems inherent challenge as we continue pushing the droughts and floods to the conflicts of ownership, access, equity, sanitation, gender, and more. That is further challenged by the resilience efforts with policies and projects driven more by the mitigation measures rather than the prevention measures and with often a normative perspective of a lost battle. The lost battle syndrome comes from the individuals/institutions/communities’ constant state of prisoner’s dilemma of me/we helplessness to bring a change. Also, because the water destruction is way more massive scaled and faster than the water conservation that are miniscule and slower in rejuvenation. However, a positive part of the latter is that water warriors are unwilling to give up on doing their bits to bring sanity/sensitivity/sensibility in the society and sustainability in the ecology, even if those efforts are like a drop in the ocean. Afterall, for people like me, it is better than the wounds we inflict on our soul if we do not do our reasonable bit.
The rising water worries in a country that is abundant in water wisdom is worth questioning and answering. Touching the surface of the water matters only tells the distress scale and level from climate crisis to asymmetric access to the vulnerable communities. Digging a bit into the water edge tells that the water matters are manufactured and manipulated by the few privileged mostly from the educated elites because of whom the vulnerability of the large section is put at stake. The water consumerism and capitalism are very much part of the today’s water mismanagement and poor governance. While those are exploited by the educated elites in the guise of development, it is they only who keep crying for the other half without actually much gain to solve the problem, since the problem identification at the other end itself is wrong. We are not walking and talking water rightly and this is because the water talks happen between them behind the closed doors and participation of the citizens affected and asking are tokenism.
Anyway, diving deep down into the ground of the water matters actually tells that the knowledge of water is available in abundance. However, those abundance of knowledge are lying fragmented into disciplines, sectors, regions, languages, beliefs, prerogatives, perceptions, preferences, and other divisions. The urban planners, designers and architects like me are anyway do not receive much education about the science of water. We are unfortunately also not taught the art of collective action so to collaborate with the many other water knowers from the field of, ecology, hydrology, geology, limnology, biology, zoology, ichthyology, ornithology, anthropology, potamology, herpetology, eco theology, oceanography, geography, etc. Thus, even many of us intending water justice socially-ecologically cart a baggage of misunderstandings and misinterpretations on water because of convenience of knowing and complacency over not-knowing. So, we have been doing a lot of Science on Water without fully knowing an ounce of the Science of Water.
So, one thing is managing the water and it is completely other thing to manage the knowledge of water. We have been extremely weak in the latter. The rush to do a lot with water with our incomplete and unorganised knowledge including the traditional wisdom, we have ended up appropriating water as an unlimited resource to the extent of seeing it as a mere infrastructure for human exploitation and in the process nearly forgotten that it is a life-giving system and that there are others who also have the right over water ecosystem as much as we do.
This to me has been very uncomfortable. I know, one cannot solve all the water problems, but at the least the intent to learn and love the water matters can be genuine. If the water matters are of the people, for the people, by the people, the Democracy of Water has to be exercised through dialogues, discussions and debates.
This became the genesis to do something for bringing a fundamental and logical change among the community at large and the water scholars, experts, policy makers, practitioners, besides the future generation towards taking preventive approach to water problems by getting rid of the prisoner’s dilemma and inculcating that every individual/community can (must) bring a change in the current water matters and that we can attain a water efficient and sufficient society through collective actions.
As I understand a bit more about water every day, my water mission has now transcended to just learning & sharing. In that, walking and talking every time with everybody also seemed crucial to bring a societal change towards making water everybody’s business. It was realised that to bring this change and increase water literacy, water needs walking and talking for addressing the rising water distress and approaching the water dialogues/discussions/debates in the way we talk about trivial things for hours like, the cricket, the cinema, and even the wars. WfW was therefore conceptualized like a Prime Time show to commit for collectively walking and talking water atleast once a week.
The WfW at this point is a water communication series with an objective to engage continuously in conversation with the water scholars, experts, policy makers, practitioners, besides the future generation to learn about their water worries and wisdoms, to know their multi-dimensional approach, and importantly to understand how those are translated also into endeavours in order to increase the water thinking clan. Well, one may rightfully argue that the sessions are all about a lot of talking and listening. Here, those who have walked are talking and those who aspire to walk are listening, besides the larger purview of increasing the water network, awareness and awakening. The weekly Prime Time has intent and content to collect people’s concerns from across sections, disciplines, and regions besides celebrating the goodness of water and the good practices in water governance-management.
Well, much of the when of the session is mentioned in the introduction as happening every Wednesday at 5.00pm. During conceptualising, WfW was planned as a 40 minutes session based on the free zoom link, like my other endeavours namely, ‘Fridays with Future’ (FwF) which is about interacting with the youths (temporarily hibernated) and the occasional ‘Monday Munching with the Women in Architecture’ which is about celebrating women professionals in the built environment. Later with the team built with institutional affiliations having zoom links with more time permitted and the structure of the session designed in such as manner, operationalising the sessions became an hour affair. Interestingly, over the time, with speakers’ enthusiasm and participants engagement, the sessions now run upto 90 minutes.
The other part of ‘when’ is when I started thinking of initiating such implicit water literacy program. Well, during my PhD at Erasmus University Rotterdam, I didn’t do much water teaching with focus on learning including my time with Prof. Elinor Ostrom in Bloomington and going places like Research Institute for Humanity and Nature Kyoto. On my return to India (in 2015), looking for works in consultancy, research, academics, and community activities, slowly revealed the bleak opportunities of the water sector practice and pedagogy besides my challenges to engage because of the missing role aspired then as a transdisciplinary practitioner.
With professional setback coupled with a personal jolt, a sabbatical time at the Center for Behavior, Institutions and the Environment as a Fulbright-Nehru Visiting Professor (2016-17), provided time to think through the gathered knowledge which I then used to design a number of courses to teach including water design and development, management and governance.
On return to India, I began trying again by reaching out to schools and colleges to urge (literally beg) for teaching water subjects, but in vain barring a few opportunities of teaching other subjects where I would always try to bring in the water matters. These years of struggle definitely helped identifying the specific gaps in the water practice and pedagogy besides understanding the problems where my transdisciplinary skillsets can be useful. It was during this time, I started the ‘Walk the Lake, Talk the Lake’ sessions to stay connected with my interest in lake and water. The numerous articles as well as failed research proposals written in these years reflect all these learning and understanding from the science and the society.
The desire to walk and talk water grew stronger, for it is clearer that the endeavour is to contribute in anything that endorses water conservation in rightful way rather than on conning alongwith the bandwagon of the numerous water development initiatives where professional opportunities is aplenty but many of those initiatives are set to damage more the social-ecological fabrics of the water system. It has now become a habit/hobby to reach out to academic institutions to request to teach and write proposals for grants to practice. The efforts to engage in grassroot water activities through water education and research got noticed by the United States India Educational Foundation, Mumbai which supported a Water Pedagogy Workshop in 2020. The workshop actually kickstarted my ongoing water endeavours including exploring possible engagements in my native Chhattisgarh.
Then came the COVID19 lockdown which changed my water endeavours blissfully. The digital mode of teaching-learning became handy to offer courses at several institutes and within 10 months of lockdown, I was counting 50+ online public lectures national-internationally most of which were on water security. It is my belief that the hindsight of the unknown-unseen novel corona virus and the lockdown effect enlightened a good lot of individuals/institutions to be environmentally interested and therefore a flood of webinars on saving the planet and humanity brought me the opportunity to e-walk-n-talk water with thousands of webinar participants. A positive outlook to COVID indeed besides the belief that the earth healed a bit by locking us up. In this time around, a short shattered stint at SACIWaters as Executive Director made my dream to walk and talk water crystal clear as clean water, ‘that water security cannot be compromised with one’s employment security like the many do’. The purpose to learn, love and live water arrived with conceptualising the WfW around the late 2020 when I wrote the concept note, planned the structure, organisation of the series. Well, in there was an explicit mission to know, an implicit motto remains to understand the water matters from across to be able to engage better.
Early 2021, the concept note of the WfW was shared with Fawzia Tarannum as I was teaching ‘Water Governance and Institutions’ online at the TERI SAS New Delhi and with Bibhu Prasad Nayak as I was to teach at TISS-Hyd ‘Water Governance’. By March we were pretty much ready to start when Fawzia brought onboard Ganesh Shankar from FluxGen-Bangaluru who also had planned Quiz and other events with same name WfW. I am sure Ganesh too has an interesting motivation at the background. We all quickly nodded to collaborate and with a few more discussions we were set to go. Well, we did our first session on the April 28 with Rajendra Singhji and the latest to end the year of 2021with Anil Joshiji.
So, Walking Solo (Ekla Cholo) and Talk as Specialist are certainly satisfying for personal-professional endeavours. However, collective action is at the core as walking and talking are two-way process. With the core lead team of four of us, Megha Gupta, Manisha Sharma and Gautamee Baviskar were invited from my Responsible Citizen Fellowship; Vasantha Subbiah and Srinivas MR were invited by Ganesh to join the WfW working team. Later, Srishti Mahale, Jagpreet Singh, Pooja Choudhary have joined from TERI-SAS and Suparna Katyiani has joined from TISS-Hyd. We are now keen to have more youth onboard to take up responsibilities and ideations for expanding our collective engagements besides showing them a collective and hopeful path to concern water worries, care water wisdoms and chart water endeavours.
The other set of Whos are the speakers. Our regular session format has two co-speakers as practitioner/ policy maker and researcher/academician with a young discussant and moderation by one of the core team members. Apart from the special sessions like ‘Water Democracy’ and Jal Satyagraha’, with keynote speakers like Dr. Kiran Bedi and Medha Patkar, we are also doing special sessions of art, literature, music, and movie like, Tales from Waterworlds by Gauri Raje, River of Stories by Orijit Sen, Every Trickle Counts by Sukrit Sen, Hey Nade Sarite and MATI- Land, Floods and Displacement. While we call the science sessions to be hard sessions, the latter sessions are called soft sessions.
Well, there has been a conscious effort to organise gender balanced panel in most of sessions except a few sessions due to time limitations like, Urban Lake Governance and Sustainability, and Water and Youth. Since we truly believe that water dialogues/discussions/debates can no more be patriarchal and manels cannot be encouraged anymore as often seen in events organised across sections.
A good thing happened during these nearly two years of extensive digital life is that my water engagement is now full time including some interesting on ground works thus slowly shaping my endeavours. WfW was conceptualised as an online initiative. We hope to exp›and to other engagements exploiting the hybrid and the on-ground modes. The other ‘where’ is the reach for speakers and outreach of the audience. Until now we have focussed on speakers from India however, the two keynote speeches on ‘Grassroot Innovations in Water Management’ have international outreach through the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC) in which I am recently appointed as a Council Member. We are contemplating on inviting international speakers.
Performance and Performance Measures
Water being vital to all, learning about it formally or informally came natural after the years of soaking into the subject through academics, research, consultancy and community activities. I have attended all the WfW sessions conducted so far so are by the most core team members. All the functioning so far is happening voluntarily from identifying the topic, hunting for the speakers, preparing the promotions, promoting the sessions, coordinating with the speakers, registration of the participants, follow-up with them, attending the sessions, writing the notes, editing the videos for YouTube, preparing the draft essay for publications, coordinating with the team and many miscellaneous.
From conceptualisation, it was clear that the learning should reach far but at the same time it was also clear with the team formation that the social media handles will be crucial to inform participants about the sessions. Besides, a conscious effort also goes during sessions to make it interactive with the participants so that they remain interested in the sessions. We now have some regular participants from youth as well as senior experts.
Besides the walking-talking water collectively, learning-sharing water worries-wisdoms, criss-crossing and expanding water networks, and exploring professional collaborations, the tangible performance measures from the sessions have been to make videos like Riverfront Developments in India, Water and Agriculture, Water and Heritage, Water Sensitive Planning, Water Education in/for Higher Studies- I; and write essays for publications like Ocean- Life and Livelihoods, Urban-Rural Water Sustainability, Forest and Water to further disseminate the knowledge collected. WfW plans to compile the notes and bring out a manuscript.
At the conceptualisation, WfW targeted to first reach out to 100 water warriors/enthusiasts in the phase one, which we shall reach by mid of February 2022 with 82 presenters already banked in the 31 sessions. In the next phase, the target is to reach 100 sessions, meaning WfW is already envisaged for two years. If I look at the water-links identified so far, we shall barely touch a % of water experts in the country, which brings back the point that water knowledge is in abundance. WfW is just bringing those knowledge and knowledge bearers at one place.
Water being a social-ecological system, a social capital is crucial to conserve and manage it. The WfW logo symbolises that water has a connective capacity. It also calls for collective action among the multiple actors from the community at large to the water scholars, experts, policy makers, practitioners, besides the future generation. Since much of water management is management of the society where we all belong. As of now the series is flowing like a river with touching upon the banks of knowledge through the sessions. WfW hopes that these micro banks reach to the Society as a Collective Think Tank of Water Worries, Wisdoms and Warriors to initiate dialogues/discussions/debates on Water for Future and Future of Water.
If you have suggestions and comments, if you like to join as speaker and participant, if you want to organize session as individual and/or institution, and if you have ideas to take up initiatives to complement, the Wednesdays.for.Water is reachable at:
- firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
We look forward to hearing from you and thank all the speakers and participants to make this initiative a meaningful endeavour for me as well as my team. New Year Greetings with wishes for more steps towards water conservation and management!
“the little steps here n there i set,
sometimes afloat, sometimes soaked,
to learn about water, to keep thy feet wet!”