Home / Interviews / INTERVIEW: “Women Forced Men To Perform Shramdaan In One Of Our Talukas”, says Aamir Khan Talking About Paani Foundation’s Work

INTERVIEW: “Women Forced Men To Perform Shramdaan In One Of Our Talukas”, says Aamir Khan Talking About Paani Foundation’s Work

Aamir Khan who is known be the ‘Perfectionist Of Bollywood’, not only has a clear vision for his ever growing career but also the Paani Foundation which has been founded by him in an aim to free the state of Maharashtra from water scarcity issues. He has been quoted saying, “The TV show Satyamev Jayate taught us that communication can mobilise people into action, and people themselves are a force that can change circumstance. Enthused by this we thought that if we work on one specific issue and stay with it for a consistent period of time, then perhaps we could be part of a massive social transformation. The issue we chose was water.” 3 years since the establishment of the foundation and it’s success story is proof enough of the selfless work that goes in to improve the lifestyle of the villages within the boundaries of Maharashtra.

We sat down to chat with the humble Superstar Aamir Khan on the progress of Paani Foundation, how the water shed management system works and what’s going to happen on 1st May – Maharashtra Day, here’s what he had to say:

Q. You went to Pune how was it? What was the response?

Aamir Khan: It was great. I got a very good response at Symboysis and the essence really is that it was a specific activity in which we were reaching out to students. Student faternity in Maharashtra by going to Symboysis was a symbolic gesture. Reaching out to students across Maharashtra, encouraging them to join us on 1st may, when and where we are organising a ‘Mahashamdhaan’ as 1st may is Maharashtra Day. So we want people from cities to travel to villages on that day and work for 3 hours with villagers and be a part of this and contribute to this process.

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Q. You were urging the students to be a part of the cause you are working for and how active were you? Were you socially aware when you were a college kid? Were you aware of what’s happening around?

Aamir Khan: I think I was fairly aware. To be honest I rarely spent any time in college because I didn’t study beyond 12th and after 12th I was mostly doing theatre and all of that. But I was socially aware and I used to respond to similar causes like this.

Q. Being a superstar, has benefited you in grabbing the attention of the people better towards his cause?

Aamir Khan: I have to say, first of all, the idea has to have a merit and I think the idea and concept behind what we are trying to do, which is actually has been designed by Satyajit Bhatkar (CEO, Paani Foundation) has got merit in itself. And this concept was first tried 3 years ago when we started in 3 ‘talukas’. I think if the concept doesn’t have a merit then no matter how many celebrities try pushing it, it won’t work! So the fact that it has work indicates that the concept has got merit and then certainly there are celebrities like me and other celebrities from Marathi cinema who have been actively endorsing it, pushing it, working with people over the last 3 yrs. It’s not just me but number of celebrities from Marathi cinema who have come forward to do this. So first I feel concept has to have merit and then celebrities can give it weightage.

Q. This work you’re doing for last few years it’s been going on. What are the changes that have come to the lifestyle of local people, when it comes to saving water?

Aamir Khan: I would strongly recommend that you should visit our website
Paanifoundation.in and that will give you a very good idea about what the changes are. You’ll get detailed understading of what the changes are. But just to tell you briefly, a village that does do water shed management work sees a change even in as short period as 1 year. It means the work done is in April & May. It rains in June, July and August, usually by December, these villages earlier had tankers come in by December as water gets over by December. Tankers would come in by January for 6 months. But a village that has done the water shed work, doesn’t have tanker come in even by April and May. So they actually become tanker free because a tanker isn’t required around here. And again in June the rain comes and having done the water shed work done, the storage capacity in the groundwater increases dramatically so I’ll give you an example, if you build 1 CCT (Continous contour trech) that has a capacity of 20,000 ltr. 2 CCT has 40000 ltr, so the 16 or equivalent structures which come under water shed management each has a different capacity of storage. The concept of water shed management is such where water shed in any area that you demarcate on this earth, and since the earth is not flat so its undulating, slopes and all that. Any area that you can demarcate as a water shed and whenever it rains, the water starts flowing downwards as it flow downwards they form small revolutes, water from those small revolutes flow and join further in streams, they join forward and forms bigger streams, maybe a river and there’s a large river. There a flow in a particular direction. Draw an imaginary line at any point in that river/stream, that becomes the mouth of the water shed and the water shed of this particular one is all the area around it, from where the water has landed to the mouth which means if there are slopes over here, water from that slope will go on another place, so any area from which water flows towards this mouth that side of the slope becomes your water shed, you can have number of water sheds and you decide at a stream and you can decide where you’d want to. You work from top down which means the concept is to work with water where it lands at the highest point and flows to the the last point. Let’s assume it takes 10 mins for it to reach the mouth, you delay that time, you make stops on the way, you make running water walk and walking water stop. The water which stops encourages it to go underground and it becomes part of the groundwater now when you build borewell, you must have heard nowadays that borewell is going deeper and deeper as there’s no water because groundwater is falling you have to go 1000 ft deeper before you hit water but when you go that deep you get arsenic and fluoride which is poisonous and that is another dangerous in itself, when you start refilling the water into the ground, the water starts rising below the ground and then your wells get full. You don’t need borewells. Borewell is the most dangerous thing because what a borewell does is it empties the aquifer from all around. For example, if I have a field in which I make a borewell. There are 30 other people who have got fields all around. They may not be as rich a farmer as me. I have build nice deep borewell and I’m sucking the water out which actually belongs to all of us, so we are against q borewell. We are for recharging the groundwater. That is what is water shed management. There are 16 distinct structures for the same system. There are deep CCTs which we make right on top of the slope then we make the CCT which is on the counter of the slope we make these trenches, so water actually stops at each point before it comes down. In small revolutes you make LVS (Loose Volder Structure). You take loose stones and you put them on the revolute, so water doesn’t stop ever. But it slows down consistently, so one long stream you can have 7 to 8 LVS and the speed of the water constantly slows down. But for bigger streams, you have ‘maathi’, you allow a gap for it to flow through that’s called ‘Mathi’. But a LVS with a wire mesh around it is called Gabian structure. So there are 16 structuresh. The last step is when you go the village pond and you go the naalas, you actually do Naala kholi which means water gets collects in these water ponds and nallas. Sometimes this doesn’t allow water to collected over there. So when the water flows, it’s not just the water which flows, it flows with the top soil. The top soil is what collects, you must have heard of dams getting full of slit. So you have to start getting machines to take out that slit. So more and more water gets collected. So that is the last stage of water shed management. You start from the top, it says Maitha to Paitha (in Marathi) which means forehead to feet. So these are the various works that you can do. What we do as Paani Foundation is first we study the science of water shed management. Having studied the science we have broken it down to into a syllabus. How to teach it to the people and we have made it in the form of games and experienced learning. So that when you learn it in 4 and half days. It’s something that stays with you, something that you enjoy, enthuses you and so the program of teaching is very entertaining and also has social training within it. So there’s a technical training and social training because we invite villages to take part in the competition. For them to take part in the competition, they have to send 5 villagers to us whom we will train. Those 5 will go back and they will lead the village in the competition. All the work will be done by the village. The village will decide what is the area of land, how any water sheds fall into it, they make the plan, they execute the plan, we teach them how to do it. If they ever have any questions, they need any expert’s advice, we have an expert on standby who immediately guides them. It is their planning, their time spent, their work, any money they need for machines, they themselves collect it, so when a village has completed its water shed work. It gives a sense of having done it on their own and that is the most empowering thing for the village. The villlage knows that next year they don’t need tankers, it’s because of their work that this is happening. And now they know how to do it, every year they can just repair those structures, no one has to teach them anymore. Infact, they become the experts.They become our teachers for next year. So 1st year we had 3 training centers and 20 trainers, 2nd year when we went to 30 talukas, we needed many more training centres almost 140 trainers but where do you find so many trainers, when we made our program we made our syllabus in our 1st year
and our method of teaching was to train 20 trainers but where will you get these 140 trainers from? From the villagers who have done the work, they become trainers in the next year so it’s a thought out process that we have started. When we started in 3 different parts of Maharashtra, we had Vidhar, Marathwada and western Maharashtra in our minds as the 3 most affected areas in Maharashtra, so we started with 1 taluka each and the success stories in these 3 talukas have helped in taking it to 30 talukas because remember that our training centres are not in Mumbai or Pune, we don’t come to building and train. We go to a village which has done water shed management work and we train over there. So you see what has been done by the village and you learn by example, that this village has already done it and those villagers will tell the trainees that’s how its done so it’s kind of a chain reaction.

Q. What happens when it doesn’t rain as much as expected?

Aamir Khan: It’s very rare that it doesn’t rain at all. In these draught areas typically they have 300 mm of rainfall which is very less, sometimes in case of severe draught, it drops to 270 mm or 250 mm, in rare cases it drops to 200 mm which is very unlikely. In 200mm of rainfall, you would have roughly 5 showers in whole monsoon season so what happens is that typically when villagers come for training they are taken on a walk around the village and they are told to identiy just through visiual what is the difference you see between your village and the village you have come to
so they identify some strucutre, there is greenery and there is water. That is obvious observation they make. First question, we ask them is why do you think there’s water here and not in your village? They say that it didn’t rain much in our village, then we pull out figures that in your village it rained 300 mm last year and there are 40 trainees, so each trainee we tell and in this village it rained 250 mm which is less than your village and now why do you think this place has water and yours doesn’t? There could be a case that it doesn’t rain at all like hardly 1 shower. But that is very rare and unlikely. When we say that it didn’t rain at all, what we mean it rained very less but if you have done water shed management then even in less rain it would be of much benefit. So one of our program is Jalmitra, log onto – jalmitra.paanifoundation.com, and when you tap on language, you fill a form, you become a jalmitra, you can come on 1st May to do Shramdhaan, you will be told precisely what to do, you can do 3 things that you can do, you can donate money as well with Bhartiye Jain Sanghatan which helps villages which are not able to raise funds. Having seeing their work last year, if you want to donate money then donate to BJS which has shown the strength to do shramdaan as they are working efficiently. To give an example, if you give 1000 to BJS, it’ll buy 14ltrs of diesel for one hour. In one hour, the machine digs 5 CCT, each CCT has capactiy of 20,000 ltrs. 5 of them makes it 1 lakh ltrs. In a year, you have atleast 5 rainfalls, that means 5 rainfalls will give you 5 lkh ltrs, 5 lakh ltrs of water if you fill in tankers, each tanker costs Rs. 2000. So 2,000*50 is 1 lakh. So your Rs. 1,000 which you have donated to BJS, it’ll be value of 1 lakh to the village. Water shed management is a very dynamic work. In the 1st year, in the 3 talukas
the amount of water storage capacity created was Rs. 272 crore worth of storage capacity, in 2nd year it was like an insanely high number I rememeber the visual, if we put it in 10,000 tankers it’ll go around the earth 1.2 times when we place these tankers one behind the other. So those villages which have done the water shed management work benefit a lot and they become tanker free. Their agriculture improves, their womens don’t have to walk long distances, kids who are supposed to go to school don’t have to wait in line for the tankers because lots of times kids are given the job to fill the pots.

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Q. Also, has it prevented suicides of farmers?

Aamir Khan: Yes, it has certainly. Water is not the only reason for farmer suicide.

Q. You were saying contribute 3 ways, what are the other ways?

Aamir Khan: You can donate money and you can do Shramdaan on 1st May. You can do shramdaan on any other day between now and the 22nd of May, until the competition gets over. You may not be free on 1st May, so you can go on any other day and the 3rd option you get is to do more. Suppose you want to do more than this, then we train you as a volunteer to do more. For example, we train you to how to use our app, we have an app for the competition, that app is an app which villagers need to fill up because when they finish work they have to take a picture and upload. Then they have to show us before and after images of the area. They have to log all the work, but many villagers find it difficult to use the app, if you want to do more one thing we teach you is how to use the app and go out and help the villagers to fill in the details, get them used to the app. Also, we train you how to sensitize school and colleges. In short burst like a couple of hours. You can go to school and colleges and do a presentation, do more has number of options.

People have asked us what is your hope
I have said that in 5 years we should not be relevant anymore. Paani foundation should cease to be relevant and all villagers should have known how to do it and they shouldn’t need us anymore. We should become usless in 5 years.

Q. Would you be reaching out to other states?

Aamir Khan: I’m not even thinking of that right now. Our only focus is Maharashtra.

Q. How much support are you getting from government?

Aamir Khan: Very strong support! The current CM that we have Mr. Devender Fadnavis is helping us thoroughly. Solution to water is one of his key projects and the governemnt also has scheme called ‘Jalyuk Shuva’ – Decentralized water, where they take 5000 villages every year and they help the villages by funding some of the activities. Administration works are taken up in these villages to solve the problem. So the CM and his office has been very supportive of what we are doing. We don’t take money from the government but we do seek their help in other ways. For example, in the months of Feb and March, when our training happens, this year we trained over 20,000 people from different villages all across. Now, these 20,000 people have to travel, you have to come from your village to the training centre village so we ofcourse pay the ticket and the booking is done through Paani Foundation funds but we are using Maharashtra state transport. Now what happens is that, it’s a big logistical effort of when we are booking, how many seats we are booking, in which bus we are booking. So what we requested the administration is that we’ll give lumpsum of 50 lakhs which you can keep with you and as we use the seats you keep deducting from them. So the CMs office immediately got in touch with the Maharashtra State Transport head and he facilitated that for us. Lots of help, they are giving us. Lot of schemes that the govt. has which villagers can use which we educate them about. So govt collectors etc. are ready to facilitate those schemes that help the villagers. They have been extremely supportive, right from the CM to his office to the collectors. In all these 75 talukas and 24 different districts, we are in direct contact with 24 different collectors and taluka coordinators. Every taluka we have 5 people working for Paani Foundation. They are in direct touch with not only the collector, right down to the ground sevak and the krishi sahek who are the bottom most soldiers of the administration.

Q. Any concert? Which used to happen in earlier times?

Aamir Khan: No, concert! We are funded by the 5 funders. We don’t need concerts which is why we don’t take money directly.

Q. Any hinderence any problem you have been facing, that has been a real issue while doing this?

Aamir Khan: See there were various challenges when we were reasearching this issue, we knew we would come across. That’s why we designed this thing keeping that in mind. Perhaps the biggest challenge is of people coming together. I’ll give you a concpetual example, water can only be stored in a pot that has no holes in it until the human beings in a community in a village come together close and if there are cracks in the society, the water will seek through. So you have to remove all the cracks and come and bind yourself close together and then you will grab the water. It is actually very true, our biggest task is getting people together because our society is fractured on many levels. Politically there are 5 different political parties in each village, we have different caste in villages, and we have landowners. Some people have land close to streams, some people don’t have land close to a stream. To convince everyone, this is one thing that we do of water shed management is actually going to help all of us. So all of us have to come together to do this. That is probably the biggest challenge. But certainly it’s a challenge to overcome by the villagers themselves. We give them social training but all these problems they have to overcome themselves. That is the beauty I feel of Satya idea, that the village does it on its own. You now when there is work happening outside your house on the road, I have never bothered to ask, ‘What is this work happening?’., ‘Which department?’, ‘What is the material?’, ‘How many days it will last?’, ‘What is it going to cost?’, etc. But when I build a cupboard in my house, I ask the carpenter thousands questions, ‘How many days?’, ‘What material?’, ‘Quality?’ and demand, ‘It should be completed in these many days?’, ask ‘Why is it not ready yet?’ and ‘Will it rust?’. So everyday we keep asking the question because we feel this is our work. What we are doing is we going to step further, what if you build the cupboard yourself, it will be how you want it and you will be taught how to do it. So we are teaching people how to do it now I have an emotional connection with what I have made, no one has made it for me, I have made that cupboard, I own it, it’s mine. I know that all of us have come together to make this. So you and I are now brothers because we have come together to make this and if ever tomorrow one hinge becomes loose I don’t become helpless, I only made it and I know exactly what to do. I know where to buy the hinge and fix it, so you are empowering the village and once and for all you are offering them a sustainable solution which for years they can look after themselves but it has to come from village itself, the village has to want to do it. If you don’t want to do it, no problem, we invite everyone and if you want to do it then we are there for you which is why we say we don’t choose the villages, the villages choose us!

Q. What’s the response from the women for this campaign?

Aamir Khan: Oh! Women are the main guys. Women power is one of the most important power. As a story from last year, when we went to a village we saw women who doing shramdaan everyday, working very hard while the men were lazying around, making excuses, they used to play cards all day, eat paan and all. So the women decided that they won’t go home, after shramdaan they went to temple and they slept over there and told their husbands that they weren’t coming home. They said, if you’re not coming for shramdaan, we are not coming home. So what it resulted in 24 hours is that the men cracked and they said no we’ll come for shramdaan. What women did was to take the initiative to make them first sign the register and write names and then they would come and then they began working together. This effort is not only to solve the water problem, it is also ending up you know adressing social issues on its own organically and I strongly recommend you all that you visit our website and watch our show on zee marathi ‘Toofan Aaliya’ at 9:30 on Saturday, do watch that or you can catch the episodes on YouTube because all these stories you will see over there and on our website you will see these stories and please help us in communicating to people that on 1st May we need more and more people from cities to sign up for Mahashramdaan. 25th is the last day of registration, 1 lakh have registered so far but we need more and more people to register please encourage them to register because whatever we do in these 3 hrs will really be a big help to the villages. I personally feel it’ll help the city folks eventually.

Q. How social cause for a movie will also help in a way?

Aamir Khan: We are working on ground with villages. We are doing a tv show which comes every week in Marathi because we are addressing the marathi audience. I don’t  think a movie can do anymore. We are already much more than a movie can do.

Q. How much junaid and Ira are contributing?

Aamir Khan: Ira is not in India right now. She’s studying abroad. Junaid is very much working in Paani foundation. He sits in the paani office only!

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Last day of Registration is tomorrow!!!

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