Celebrating Sweet Water Day in India

Guest post by Will Howling

About Will

Will Howling has just completed his third year of studies in the UVic Commerce program, and will be specializing in International Business during his upcoming final year.

He’s interested in issues of development, sustainability, and how social entrepreneurs can create social value by taking on complex problems. During his internship, Will will be working with PRIA to study livelihoods aspirations of youth in Haryana state, India.

PRIA (Participatory Research in Asia)’s work is focused on empowerment of the excluded through capacity building, knowledge building and policy advocacy. Established in 1982, PRIA has worked tirelessly on building capacities of citizens, communities and institutions to enable vibrant, gender-equal societies. With a head office in New Delhi and satellite offices in 8 states, PRIA’s mission is to “make democracy work for all,” focusing training and improving access to services for marginalized individuals throughout India.

Will is working with PRIA in Delhi with the support of a Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives (CAPI) Crossing Borders Internship.

Interested in interning? CAPI currently has internships placements in India, Malaysia, Japan and Thailand. Deadline for applications is February 2018. Check the CAPI website for more info.

Will’s Sweet Water Day experience

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.

PRIA and Martha Farrell Foundation (MFF) 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 fellow UVic intern Rachel and me. 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 around the same theme. 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 sweet syrup called Roohafza. Taken in combination, it tastes like the name suggests – sweet water. Thankfully it is also chilled – the Haryana sun was a sweltering 42 degrees that day.  

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. It demonstrated the beauty of KBC groups: they are sustainable beyond the assistance of PRIA and MFF, and this was on full display. PRIA and MFF 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.

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