Will Howling, a PRIA intern from University of Victoria, Canada, reflects on his experience of celebrating Sweet Water Day with the Kadam Badhate Chalo youth from Panipat, Haryana
Saturday, June 10th, saw me attend the first ever Sweet Water Day celebration in the village of Titana. The day began with much travelling, by Uber, state bus, and autorickshaw, to arrive in this rural community, which is near Panipat in Haryana. Martha Farrell Foundation (MFF) and PRIA have been working with the young community members in Titana to establish a youth-led KBC group (Kadam Badhate Chalo – loosely translated as “let’s move ahead”) whose aim is to help end violence against women. I was told the community was celebrating a festival that day known as Sweet Water Day, and that the KBC group would be involved, serving ‘sweet water’ and organizing events.
Upon our arrival in Titana, my companions from PRIA and I were shown into a walled compound with a covered area at the far end. In the shade, chairs and several large blankets were spread over the floor to create a sitting area. People of all ages milled about, but mostly children and youth, snapping numerous photos of me and my fellow intern Rachel. We spent the next hour introducing ourselves to many of the youth and answering questions.
When everyone was at last seated (a crowd numbering over 100), there were several introductions, followed by a display of the youth’s talents. First, a youth named Mohit performed a self-composed rap song about gender issues in the community; next came another male youth who performed a tremendous a cappella piece. Several people, including the village head, made speeches, but my understanding was very limited since the dialogue proceeded in Hindi. After this the crowd became restless and I thought the event appeared over, but I was about to discover the meaning behind the day. A large mass of people had gathered around a banner near the entrance to the compound. I was invited to sign a pledge on this poster, and all the community members did the same, after which a tray with plastic cups full of light pink liquid was carried in my direction. I guessed that this was the fabled ‘sweet water’ at last. We all sipped our cups, and carried on for many photo opportunities in front of the newly autographed banner.
What is Sweet Water Day, and moreover, what is sweet water? After some asking around in the village some time later, I learned that ‘sweet water’ is simply a solution of lemon, sugar and a red sugary syrup called Roohafza. Taken in combination, it simply tastes like the name suggests – sweet water (thankfully chilled under the sweltering 42-degree Haryana sun).
Sweet Water Day, though, is not really about the water. Yes, it is a refreshing drink and the event is a welcome change of pace in village life. More than that though, it is about the youth of the village bringing their community together in an effort to make it a better place to live. In this instance, Sweet Water Day was held to raise awareness about violence against women in Titana. The various speeches and performances all carried this message along, and the crescendo of the day was the sarpanch’s pledge, which stated that the panchayat will support KBC in making Titana free of violence against women and girls – a significant step forward for safety and equality in the community, and one that is driven by the youngest members of the village. The banner that I signed was a symbol of this pledge – everyone was invited to sign their name on this important resolution.
What I saw in Titana impressed me greatly. I now see the true beauty of KBC groups: they are sustainable beyond the assistance of MFF and PRIA, and this was on full display. MFF and PRIA helped to sensitize and organize the youth in Titana but Sweet Water Day was entirely their creation; we were just witnesses. It was extremely heartening to see that the youth are actively and autonomously engaged in solving the problems that they perceive around them. This is grassroots democracy in action.