Sarpanch 'Tai' Fixes Her Village's Water Woes, Gives Women a New Lease of Life

The village had a population of 1,200 people, but just one river and a well. Renuka 'Tai' fixed this.

Climate Change
4 min read

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The first time 22-year-old Renuka Kotambkar saw Kotambadi – a village located 30 kilometre from Wardha, one of the most drought-prone regions in Maharashtra – was as a new bride. On her first day at her new home, she realised that the entire village had zero water connectivity – and little girls and women bore the brunt.

The village had a population of 1,200 people but just one river and a well to cater to their water needs. Women would walk to the nearest river, about 1.5 kilometre from the village every morning to fetch water for their entire family.

"When I got married and came to the village, I realised that there was no water source in the village. There was one river outside the village. I used to go with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law to fetch water from the river. It was 1.5 km away. I used to think that something could be done to fix this."
Renuka Kotambkar to The Quint

Women would get up early, walk to the river to fetch water, do household chores and return to the river to fetch water – again, and again, and again. If women were on their period, it meant a few more rounds to fetch water, timed to when the entire village was asleep. For more than a decade, Renuka too did this, along with everyone else.

But it stopped 15 years ago, when Renuka 'Tai,' as the village now fondly calls her, took it in her own hands to fix their water woes. The eco-warrior sarpanch transformed the Kotambadi from water-scarce to water-secure.


How Renuka Became 'Tai'

When Renuka first called for a meeting of women, to discuss water connectivity issues, no one spoke.

"I called my college professor and asked her what I should be doing. Women young and old were doing this, as if it were a norm. That was not the case in other villages. But when no one shared their woes, I told them how much I suffered fetching water back and forth. Then came everyone's stories," Renuka told The Quint.

"When we gathered, the women would talk about how during menstruation, how they would have to wake up before everyone else. They would have to go two-three times to fetch water. This would make them feel humiliated. Not just that, little girls were asked to help with water instead of going to school. I used to think, what do I do?"

How do you effect a change? You take your fight to the very top. Renuka did just that. She realised that while she wanted to fight for water, it was possible only with some power and money – neither of which she had before becoming sarpanch.

"I felt that I had to stand in elections. I can talk about it and share things with others, but to do something, money is very important. To make an impact, finances are very important. I may be educated, but where would I get the money from?"
Renuka Kotambkar to The Quint

Fixing the Village's Water Woes

In the first two years, she spent most of her time fighting to install six hand pumps in the village. But it made little difference to the women.

"Even then, women would spend half their time fetching water. Slowly from hand pumps, we sought funds for tap connection. We wanted tap connection in every house. If each house has water connection, then it would reduce the burden on women."

Today, every house in the village has a tap water connection, installed with the help of a mix of funds – from the government, various NGOs, and some corporates who pitched in.


Later, she collaborated with NWCYD and Water Aid in their Women+Water scheme, where she learnt the importance of understanding the quality of water as the village used the same tap water for consumption as well.

"The Wardha coordinator Nallu Gowalikar held meetings and told us what all we could do for water in the village. Through them I understood, how to check for water quality, conservation. Then, I purchased kits and distributed it across the village, and formed a group of women to be in-charge of checking the water quality. This also helped us keep our health in check."

The village also had a dam which was non-functional. Villagers, led by Renuka, sat on protest so that the government would takes notice and release funds for cleaning up the dam. It worked.

"The women of the village sat on protest because the village in located deep-inside (the district). No one would notice that we did not have water. It is also important. Today, the dam irrigates the farms of the entire village."
Renuka Kotambkar to The Quint

The availability of water, right in their homes, transformed the lives of women, opening doors to many more opportunities and giving them a new lease of life – be it employment in agricultural activities, or even further education.

"Women would spend half their day in fetching water, even children. So they could not go to school. Now that water is there, kids go to school, the girls also get time to study more, learn skills like sewing machine, they get time to work in the farm, they have started going to bigger towns to study. All this has been made possible because of water," Renuka 'Tai' said.

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Topics:  Me The Change   Eco Warriors 

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