The 4 waters of Pravah: Navigating Contamination
“I can see with my own eyes that the water that comes from the tap, it comes from those ponds that store wastewater for irrigation... I know it is bad, because I can see it is green water. So I don't use it for cooking. I use well water for cooking because it is purer than the tap water, because when the water percolates into the well, there are some bad particles that remain at the bottom. But it is still bad, so I don't use it for drinking, it still contains chemicals because of the wastewater percolation.
There are actually 4 waters here: the wastewater for irrigation, the sakarbai water for cooking and bathing, the tap water for washing and the ATM water for drinking."
Babita, housewife, Dalit caste, about 50 years old
Multiple ways of knowing Pravah's wastewaterscape
In Pravah, people know their waters by looking at them, tasting them, feeling them, smelling them. Their senses, their bodies, allow them to navigate levels of contamination, assessing their dangers and vital powers to decide which water to use and how.
They also observe how different waters influence the growth of different crops. Wastewater for example works as manure for crops, but also fosters the growth of weeds and makes the soil look unhealthy. Wastewater also attracts animals that were not previously living in the village: deer, rabbits, birds.
In this sense, farmers observe, sense and narrate the emergence of a multi-spieces wastewaterscape.
Scientists assess water quality by testing the presence of specific bacteria and by ensuring that water properties (such as temperature, pH, dissolved solids and oxygen, etc.) fall within certain benchmarks. Each of these parameters reveals something different about water, its health and the physical and social environments through which it flows.
Numbers, measurements, colors, tastes, embodied feelings, smells represent different ways of knowing water. They may agree with one another or clash and contradict, resulting in different ways of experiencing and relating to waters.
The same water can therefore be deemed safe and healthy by scientific assessments, but perceived as dirty, smelly and dangerous by the inhabitants of Pravah.