Satyajit Bhatkal and Kiran Rao, founders of Paani Foundation, talk about the idea behind launching the initiative, the Satyamev Jayate Water Cup and more
From three talukas in 2016, Paani Foundation has reached 30 talukas and over 1,300 villages for their Satyamev Jayate Water Cup this year. The Foundation, a not-for-profit company set up by Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao in early 2016 to work towards creating a drought-free Maharashtra, has been guiding villages in watershed management and water preservation. Brainchild of Satyajit Bhatkal, Aamir and Kiran, the Foundation wants to make villages self-sufficient in terms of water, without helping them monetarily. Aamir and Kiran have done an extensive onground reporting to understand the villagers’ requirements and issues.
The Satyamev Jayate Water Cup is a competition to see which village can do maximum water conservation during a given period of time. The winners of the competition will be announced on August 6 at Balewadi Stadium. During an interaction on Thursday in the city, Satyajit and Kiran said that there’s lot that needs to be done still.
The need to launch Paani Foundation
Satyajit: Paani Foundation emerged out of our show Satyamev Jayate. The show was born of an idea that communication can lead to social change. It was an experiment and continues to be so. It was a question that we asked and wanted to find an answer. Now we are trying to find the answer through the work we are doing. While working on the show, we realised that people in India are ready for change which they are willing to create themselves. Encouraged by the tremendous response we received for the show, we thought of working on one issue and one geographical area. But as communicators, as people in the world of cinema and television, we wanted to see if we can contribute through whatever skills we have. We thought of concentrating on one of the most important and critical issues — water and drought in Maharashtra.
Kiran: In the first year, we saw 116 villages creating water storage of 1,368 crore litres. Apart from the staggering statistics, the biggest achievement was to see the power of people when they come together. Because of that, we have taken our scale 10 times higher and this year, we reached 1,321 villages. We witnessed such enormous and extraordinary participation. People came together in lakhs. We will see the results of the competition on August 6 but I think more than just the winners, the greatest achievement is seeing the people of the villages put aside their differences and come together with such committed and positive attitude to solve their water problem.
Taking it forward
Satyajit: We have no plans to take the initiative pan India but we want to reach each and every corner of Maharashtra. Right now, we are trying to figure out how much we can digest because we are getting so many phone calls, letters, texts from across the state. We are trying to accommodate as much as we can, based on our strengths.
Going to the cities
Kiran: As Satya said, the ultimate goal is to cover the entire state and cities are very much a part of it. We have actually opened up the invitation to city folks to join us for shramadaan and experience the work at ground level. Around 10,000 to 15,000 people had come on May 1 for shramadaan to different villages. City people are ready for change and the challenge for a better future.
Kiran: We are consciously making an effort to reach out to children. This time when our teams visited villages, we taught the children there various things. We have realised that children are quick learners and easy adapters. But we are going with a very structured approach. At Paani Foundation, we are trying to make our curriculum fun and I want to highlight that. We want to take the initiative to a school level so that children participate voluntarily. Every child should get the opportunity to learn about water, soil and farming. We call ourselves an agrarian country. We teach children about complicated things but nothing about the soil, if it’s good or bad. This is such a fundamental concept but we do not talk about it. Part of our dreams is to make a curriculum for school children.
Executing the humongous task
Satyajit: It’s difficult to manage such a huge project and we are not scaling up to 300 talukas because of the challenges. It’s difficult beyond imagination.
Kiran: Also, what we would like to do is sending out invitations to people from the across the state to join our initiative. We want people who are excited about water, and people’s movement in general, to join the initiative. They can get in touch with us through our website.
Aamir and Kiran’s star status
Satyajit: What Aamir and Kiran bring to the table is not their star status but commitment. When a person is committed, they don’t bring only stardom. It’s a small part of it. They bring with them their time, thinking, ideation, questions, arguments, travel, meeting with villagers, meeting funders — all of that. I believe that either you are fully involved in a work or it’s nothing, and they are completely involved.
A life-changing experience
Kiran: Initially when we were thinking of starting Paani Foundation, I was the most sceptical about whether the initiative will work because the entire idea is based on the fact that it’s a people’s movement and it can only succeed if people come together. In today’s day and age when we have problem agreeing to our own friends, how would it be possible for an entire village to come together to solve such a big problem? The success of Paani Foundation rested on people’s willingness to come together and be excited about solving their own problems.
I was also keen to experience the whole thing first hand and see what happens during those 45 days of work. Also, I have never lived in a village and was therefore more interested.
People say that travel opens your mind and eyes but my 45 days of travel to these villages opened my heart. Over time, we become cynical and hardened by bad news. But this travel opened my heart and showed me that people are genuinely capable of positivity, great resilience, great tenacity, love and warmth. It changed my perspective towards many things. We met some incredible people who are doing great work on the ground despite tremendous odds.
What stood out for me was the stories of people overcoming political differences, women encouraging men folk to join the initiative, children and youngsters joining in large numbers to actually spread the word to other villages and colleges that it’s possible to do.
The best thing about positivity is that it’s infectious and it kept spreading from place to place. I remember in a village called Krishnapur, there’s a family where girls have never stepped out of home. So when one of the men from the family attended our session and told them about it, a girl felt motivated and encouraged other women of the family and all of them joined the villagers. Their story of stepping out of the house, the freedom and excitement they felt was so heartwarming to see. There are many such stories.