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No Water for the Adivasis

June 16, 2006

Bruce Van Voorhis - Hong Kong

On this Sunday when we gather to worship and share communion to affirm once again our unity as Christians around the world, we also remind ourselves this year of another life-giving element that nurtures us and binds us together-water.

I learned of the significance and power of water through listening to the stories of adivasis, or indigenous people, in the state of Gujarat in western India last year. In village after village, people explained how their lives had been changed by the construction of the Ukai Dam about 40 years ago. Originally, they said, two canals had been planned to transport water from the dam to the surrounding area of Surat District. In the ensuing four decades, however, only one of the two canals has been built, a canal, which irrigates primarily sugarcane plantations in the district. The uncompleted canal would have provided water for land largely occupied by the adivasis.

Without adequate water, there is little that the adivasis can do to survive except to work for others as manual laborers. Thus, for six months of the year, many adivasi families migrate with their children to cut sugarcane. After working more than 12 hours a day and eating one or two pieces of bread for most meals, they receive US$66 or less per family for their labor at the end of six months. The remainder of the year they work as day laborers for US$.50 a day.

The provision of water for some—the sugarcane plantation owners—has made their lives comfortable and affluent. The denial of water for others—the adivasis—has made their lives miserable and impoverished. Every day the adivasis face discrimination and exploitation because of their dependence on the sugarcane plantation owners and others for their livelihood. Water, indeed, can change people’s lives.

Bruce Van Voorhis

Bruce Van Voorhis serves as missionary with the Asian Human Rights Commission located in Hong Kong. He serves as a writer and editor with the Commission.

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