How Gender and Caste Mediate Access to India's Water: A Reading List

A reading list examines the interplay of gender, caste and water.


No discussion about water scarcity is complete without examining the issues of who has access to water, the kind of displacement large hydrological projects cause, and how water crises impact other sectors such as agriculture and power. 

Most importantly, water scarcity cannot be discussed without  looking at how gender and caste determine access to water, impacting already vulnerable communities. 

1) The National Water Policies do not accord any importance to gender concerns

Tanusree Paul writes that in addition to household uses, women's requirement of water in their role as cultivators is the same as men but is seldom recognised by policymakers, donors, and academics. Women are forced to travel long distances or stand for hours in long queues because water is not easily accessible or available in both rural and urban areas. This leaves women with much less time for other important activities such as attending school, childcare, farming, or other income-generating activities.


2) Policy reforms on caste and gender have been little other than rhetorical changes

Deepa Joshi discusses the interplay of caste, gender and water.  Her research in the Kumaon region reveals that higher caste women actively obstructing the participation of dalit women, competition between dalit and other minority tribal communities, and a dismal absence of, and an ineffectual engagement of dalits, especially dalit women, in community and other institutional water domains.


3) Irrigation narratives and knowledges have long devalorised women’s contributions 

Margreet Zwarteveen writes that since colonial times and continuing to the present, irrigation has been an important site for the construction of gendered power and hegemonic masculinities.


4) When water becomes a scarce good, the more privileged inevitably find ways to maintain access

Maithreyi Krishnaraj argues that, despite the policy initiatives and attendant programmes to expand access to water users, given our hierarchical society, the conversion of drinking water into a private good adversely affects women and the lower castes and classes. 

5) There is an unquestioned assumption that women are natural conservers and managers of water

These assumptions of women as naturally inclined to such work reinforce the gender stereotypes and continue to keep women in the domestic terrain without understanding the underlying power structures of agency. Seema Kulkarni argues that to engender  water governance it should not be treated as a merely technical exercise. Increasing the number of women in organisations or political spaces, such as water committees should go hand in hand with redefining the nature of public space and acknowledging that the private domain – where much gendered socialisation takes place – cannot be seen as distinct or separate.


Read More:

Water and Conflict in Bombay Hotel, Ahmedabad

Big Dams and Protests in India: A Study of Hirakud Dam | Arun Kumar Nayak

India's Water and Power Crises | Shankar Sharma

'Million Revolts' in the Making | Biksham Gujja, K J Joy, Shruti Vispute, Suhas Paranjape, Vinod Goud




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