Empowering women through their engagement in socio-political concerns: The Kosi River Project
India shares the border with Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The interaction with them has been mutually acrimonious and rather ‘bullish’ (for want of a better word). With Pakistan and Bangladesh, there has been a history so ‘bloody painful’ (in every sense of the word) that it became a catalyst to many other unfortunate series of histories. Nepal which hadn’t figured in the list, did so from the year 1954, when as a country, India inaugurated its animosity with them.
Kosi is a river that originates from Northern Himalayas, flows through Nepal and India. Dudh Koshi and Bhote Koshi are its tributaries and the latter also flows into China’s Shigatse Prefecture. In Nepal, the river marks its territory inJanakpur, Sagarmatha, Koshi, Mechi Zone and in India, Bihar is the host to it. Owing to the fact that Kosi River causes floods which needs constructive deliverance and ferocity to be directed at generating hydroelectricity; in 1954, India and Nepal signed a treaty to build a barrage. When in the year 1987, the Eastern embankment of the barrage breached, Sapt Kosi High Dam was constructed as a rectification. The first Kosi project barrage that was initiated in the year 1954, stated that India shall not only procure construction materials from Nepal but will also authorize its requirements. Nepal would receive royalty from India on the hydroelectric power generated from the Project, the construction and maintenance of the barrage. The treaty also stated that Nepali citizens would be given preferential treatment in employment that is generated in the process of barrage construction. The entire language of the treaty does not leave room to any doubt that India held dominance over the matter. In the year 2008, Kosi River caused catastrophic floods in Bihar and Nepal. The media coverage given to the issue at that time, highlighted the inefficient implementation of the Kosi Project. India being the authority and steering agent in the Project, was pulled up for gross injustice meted out to Nepal and for producing pathetic ‘product’ (the barrage) which adversely impacted lives of many. Today, Indo-Nepal relationship is deadlocked not only due to the Kosi River Project but also the Mahakali River’s Tanakpur Barrage Project which met a fate similar to Kosi. What seemed as a union of convenience, caused everything but that, to both the countries.
When systems fail, people rise. From the people, if the historically suppressed voices (i.e. women) are given amplifiers; they can potentially lurch ahead a progress which can later catch on steady speed. The Centre for Social Research (CSR) in affiliation with The Asia Foundation (TAF) has initiated a project on Kosi River Flood Management engaging Elected Women Representatives, Frontline Health Workers (Anganwadi and Accredited Social Health Activists) and Cooperatives in Bihar and in Nepal. The project entails conducting situational analysis to understand the prevailing situation of Trans-Boundary water issue, needs assessment on further course of action, capacity building of women representatives and to enhance their leadership by targeting the problem of Kosi River between the countries. The objective of the CSR project is to start a dialogue in the community about the issue so that they can mobilize authorities to take corrective measures. In the process of project implementation, CSR faced many hurdles while working with the aforementioned target group. Apart from varying socio-cultural barriers, people demonstrated reluctance in being associated with the CSR-TAF project. Mobilizing the local grassroots’ organizations which worked in the targeted intervention areas also proved to be a challenge. However, armed with 32 years’ of experience in empowering women across the Indian sub-continent, CSR has been making continuous and steady stride towards engaging women in matters of significant national and political importance such as the Kosi River Project.
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