Tuesday, September 07, 2004


Director: Sushma Joshi
Producer: IRC and Nepal Water for Health, and Ton Schouten Film Company, Netherlands
Format: Beta and digital
Running Time: 29 minutes

Featured on CNN International's Q and A with Riz Khan in 2000

WATER (PANI) is a documentary that explores the notions of "community", in the context of development. The people of Lele, a village near Kathmandu, narrate the history of how they set up a committee to manage their drinking water system. The narrative moves from a fairly uncomplicated story told by the leaders about the initial installation to the complexities of gender and caste relations.

Women, the main users of water, voice their exclusion. The water committee is made up of upper caste Chettri men. Women, while token members, are not allowed to make decisions. In contrast, a neighbouring Tamang village, in which a women's group has also been set up, cite their successes in raising cattle and savings activities. This women's group makes the decisions amongst female members in a cooperative manner. The success of this group is in stark contrast to the quarrels of the water committee.

A maintenance fund is set up when the system starts to break down. But this external solution, proposed by a non-governmental organization from Kathmandu, becomes the locus of conflict. A monthly fee is to be paid to the fund. But the leadership is not transparent or accountable with the funds. People stop paying their monthly fees because they are not sure how the money is used. They also believe that the meager Rs.1000 (around US $ 15) paid annually by a commercial mineral water factory that taps water from the spring is enough to maintain the system. The fund dissolves as people stop paying and passively stop participating in the development process.

The fault-lines of caste is revealed as the village's powerful political leader reveals his prejudices in the process of voicing a liberal, no discrimination party line. This is juxtaposed with the views of an older woman from a group considered lower caste. She reveals the ambiguity of notions of joint ownership and "community" in a society deeply fractured by gender and caste power relations.

This documentary looks at the contradictions and conflicts that come up in any organized effort to create social change. By giving voice to the frustrating lack of coherence, it allows a deeper look into the exclusions of development. Ultimately, it looks at the process of alternative, small-scale modes of development, which are becoming more popular, and questions whether its promise can be realized if traditionally discriminatory systems, encoded in axes of power of gender and caste, are not fully addressed.

Chettri: Hindu group considered to be higher on the caste hierarchy, in which gender is more segregated.
Tamangs: Ethnic group with animistic traditions, considered to be lower on the Hindu caste hierarchy. High rates of male migration have also allowed women more responsibilities and rights within the household.

This video has been used as a training video for 700 different communities inside Nepal. People working in the water sector have used it to generate discussions about gender and caste in community management.

This video has been shown outside Nepal, in venues like:
Q and A with Riz Khan, CNN International
UN World Water Forum, Kyoto, Japan
Okinamizu Women's University, Tokyo, Japan
Flickerfest Film Festival, Sydney, Australia
International Watercourses Conference, Middlesex University, England
The School for Oriental and African Studies, London, England
The Southern Asia Institute, Columbia University, NY
South Asian Women's Creative Art Collective, NY
South Asia Program, Cornell University, NY
The Graduate Center, CUNY, NY
The International House, New York, NY