Amid a surge in the cases of women allegedly jumping to death in tanks and wells along with their children following marital disputes in Rajasthan’s Barmer district, an innovative intervention has been made for structural additions in tankas (big tanks) constructed in the households and on agricultural land in the rural areas. The intervention forms parts of a campaign to prevent suicides in the district.
The tankas with a huge water storage capacity are traditionally built adjacent to the residential units in western Rajasthan for collecting the rainwater and using it throughout the year for drinking and other household needs. The houses are generally situated in isolation because of their location in Dhanis (hamlets), which are at a considerable distance from each other.
The district authorities have observed that when women and children jump in the tanka, it is almost impossible for them to survive because of its depth. The administration had earlier experimented with the installation of chain or sankal (pulley) inside the tanks to provide support, but it did not work out.
‘Anmol Jeevan Abhiyan’
The ‘Anmol Jeevan Abhiyan’ (Precious Life Campaign) launched in Barmer recently has encouraged village panchayats and owners of houses to make the structural addition of hand pumps and locked covers on tankas. The light-weight hand pumps made of fibre serve the dual purpose of preventing the accidents and suicides as well as drawing of water from the tank.
The campaign has been started jointly by the district administration, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Action Aid after a research on the cases reported from Chohtan block. Among the 171 suicide cases reported last year, as many as 64 were those of women and a majority was those who had jumped into the water tanks.
Barmer Collector Lok Bandhu told The Hindu that the instances of women’s suicide along with their children were “nothing less than the murder of children”, because the latter never consented to the act and were rather forced to give up their lives. “The expenditure on hand pumps has been included as a mandatory item in the basic schedule of rates in the Zila Parishad,” he said.
Several families in the district’s rural areas live on agricultural land and fetch water from tankas by going there everyday. The closure of these structures with the locked covers would reduce accessibility and prompt those having suicidal tendencies to have second thoughts, Mr. Bandhu said.
Easy to operate
The small hand pumps are easy to operate, with which the women and children of the household can draw water any time. The permanent closure of tankas with the metal cover having lock also ensures that no cattleheads or other animals fall into them.
Pooro Devi, Sarpanch of Bachhrau village panchayat, said since the tankas were constructed in the households under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), she had made an additional provision of installation of hand pumps. As many as 130 tankas in the Bachhrau panchayat area have been equipped with hand pumps along with the big platform which can be used for household needs.
Similarly, Sarpanch Ruga Ram Chaudhary at Kosariya vilage panchayat in Baytu block has installed hand pumps at 110 tankas spending money from his pocket. The cost of each hand pump was between ₹1,700 and ₹2,000. Rekha Ram, a resident of Bhiyani-Meghwalon Ki Dhani in Kosariya panchayat, said he had found the hand pump very useful for daily use and for providing security to his family.
Action Aid zonal coordinator for Barmer and Jaisalmer, Vikas Singh, said a mobilisation team comprising the local Langa and Manganiyar folk singers, set up as a parallel action, had visited the high potential risk blocks, such as Chohtan, Dhorimanna, Serva, Dhanau and Baytu, from where the suicide cases were reported. The team has generated awareness among large sections of population with its musical performances during the ‘Prashasan Gaon Ke Sang’ programme.
Though the campaign has made an impact during the last three to four months, it cannot be measured in quantitative terms at present because of its continuity, even as the reports of suicides have gradually reduced.
A round-the-clock helpline has been established on the District Collectorate premises, where three counsellors have been interacting with the callers and rendering help. Over 250 frontline workers and volunteers have also ensured continuous operation of the campaign and persuaded the people detected with the mental health issues to seek treatment.
As a corollary to the campaign, the administration has also introduced a ‘Har Din Hai Man Ka Din’ awareness programme in the schools on the ‘no bag days’, reaching out to the adolescent students of Classes IX to XII. The initiative started among the rural people, especially those residing in far-off places, has gradually identified measures for reducing isolation among women, promoting a sense of belonging and fostering relationships within the families.