Bundelkhandi Folk songs on Water: A critical analysis

The diverse culture and tradition of folk songs are integral to Uttar Pradesh. It's vital for both, its music and anthropological & cultural nuances.

Women Collecting Water Picture Courtesy: Jahnvi Dwivedi
Women Collecting Water | Picture Courtesy: Jahnvi Dwivedi

The diverse culture and tradition of folk songs are integral to Uttar Pradesh. It’s vital for both, its music and anthropological & cultural nuances. It covers relevant aspects of the society and there probably exists no theme on which folk songs are not sung in villages – both at the local household level and in the larger public discourse. Similarly, is the case with Bundelkhand. It is well known for its folk tradition and culture in the popular media. As water is the scarcest resource, there are folk songs on conservation and optimal usage of water.

A total of 5 folk songs were analyzed to capture the larger discourse, perceptions, and understanding of the people on water and their struggle of its deprivation. All the songs were written and sung by male folk singers on the public platforms. While these songs are sung at a large public platform addressing larger audiences, folk songs are sung by women at the local household level in the village society.

Song 1– There is an urge to the people in this song to save water. Without water, everyone is troubled and results in a drought situation and is also understood as a blessing by the god, thus implying that the value of water is high. Here, water is considered indication of life. It asserts that life, cattle and animals are dependent on water. It also suggests that water must be consumed according to the need and must not be wasted. It also calls for collective management of water resources, as there is no life without water.

Also Read: Politics of Water: Dynamics of Caste and Gender in Water Scarcity

Song 2– This song begins with a request and tells daughter-in-law of the household to pump-out only as much amount of water that is required for the household. Water is to be looked at and discussed about as rainfall has dwindled over the years. Everyone is appealed to make their children aware and understand the importance of water and not waste it. Water crisis adds up as the handpump is often non-functional and is not repaired anytime soon. During summers, with situation of water scarcity at its peak and it can only be worse. Hence, the advice is for women to use it with care and not to be too harsh on it.

Song 3– The song addresses the audience as ‘brother’. Much like the previous songs, this one too asserts that life is from water. Water is essential for agriculture that forms one of the major livelihoods and income sources for the people of rural society. The scarcity of water adds up to the crisis, therefore it is important to plant trees and not cut them. This song as well asserts the importance of agriculture and the essentiality of water for it.

Song 4– This song begins with how important is community participation to save water as it is a common pool resource used by all. IT noted that in times of scarcity, water cannot flow from either village to village or from one field to another field. Since it affects agriculture, life would be wasted without water.

Song 5– This song implies that the most important task humans should be involved in is to save water. If there is water, then there is a future. If there is water, life is successful. If there is no water, people cannot do any work, the very life comes to halt. All we need to collectively do is to use water wisely and rationally and try our best to save water.

An important point that all these folk songs address is that water is a basic necessity for life. These songs emphasize how essential is to save water by using it rationally to avoid any inconvenience and difficulties. Most of the songs imply the prominence of agriculture and how essential it is to save water for the same. However, least attention is paid to domestic water where availability, accessibility, and usership forms an important aspect of ensuring the physical, socio-cultural, economic, and political well- being of people. It is indicative of the general scenario around water, where the need for agricultural water is always prioritized over domestic water. Mention of women who play an important role in collecting, storing, and management of water is also absent. There is no mention of the burden that is placed on the women due to gender-based division of labour both within and outside the household. This places them under the triple burden of managing a household, being a major part of the agricultural force, and also collecting water. Only once is there a mention of daughter-in-law in the song, where the onus to save water wisely is placed on her.

Men are intelligently kept away from taking any responsibility of water. Although the significance of community participation is suggested in these songs, the caste dynamics of water remains absent. There is no mention of the caste-based discrimination and untouchability in the context of denial of access to water resources.

Thus, intersections of caste and gender which affect access to water and its usership are invisibilized in these songs. The dominant and powerful groups maintain power by controlling water resources by pushing the marginalized sections to further margins naturalizing water scarcity. Therefore, the songs largely imply water as only a means to sustain life. However, water is not just important to sustain life but is also political in nature. Water needs to be understood as a resource that has been significant in persisting as the traditional medium of segregation, marginalization, and exclusion.

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