Demystifying 'tradition': The politics of rainwater harvesting in rural Rajasthan, India

Saurabh Gupta
Institute for Agricultural Economics and Social Sciences in the Tropics and Sub-Tropics, University of Hohenheim, Germany; saurabh.gupta@uni-hohenheim.de

ABSTRACT: The debate on traditional rainwater harvesting has largely cast the issue in terms of 'for-or-against'. Much intellectual energy has been spent on demonstrating whether traditional rainwater harvesting works or not. Yet, we know very little about how it works in specific localities. This paper seeks to address this analytical question. Taking the case of a Gandhian activist organisation, Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS), which has received international recognition for promoting traditional rainwater harvesting by means of small earthen dams (locally known as johads) in Rajasthani villages, this paper explains how a grassroots organisation, while advocating the cause of people'€™s control of their local natural resources, uses and manipulates the concept of 'traditional' for creating a niche for itself in the arena of soil and water conservation. The paper problematises 'traditional' rainwater harvesting and the various positive connotations associated with it in the narrative of the TBS, and highlights the lack of attention given to issues of equity in its interventions. It is suggested that deliberate efforts on the part of grassroots organisations are required to address the issues of equity if the goals of sustainable ecological practices are to be achieved in any meaningful sense.