When one thinks about Rajasthan, the things that come to mind are the undulating sand dunes, sparsely populated communities with a primitive lifestyle.

But what we see in the Thar desert in Rajasthan is that all life – human, animal and plant life seem to have survived, even flourished, in this hostile region by developing an intimate relationship with the fragile ecosystem of an arid desert.

Water is a scarce commodity in the desert due to poor rainfall and water quality, but the Thar dwellers had learnt to live and prosper within these acute constraints.

This city of Jodhpur faces the same challenges. Keeping in mind these constraints, the rulers of the past and the local population innovated methods to overcome them. The plan of Jodhpur city suggests that the rainwater was harvested from the hills for the town to make the walled part of the city self sufficient. These age old techniques of water management which were instrumental in their survival in the past have not been properly continued. The British denied customary rights to the community during their rule, with traditional duties of the community being transferred to the bureaucracy which lead to the decline of water management methods.

While water is scarce, red sandstone has been aplenty in the Jodhpur area and mining has been a major source of income for centuries. But the advent of mechanized mining has led to over exploitation distorting the catchment areas. The increasing demand for red sandstone has become a curse for the workers in this area, who are dependent on the mines for work whenever there is no agricultural activity. The workers keep coming back to these killer mines which are costing them their health, and at times their lives. There is high prevalence of silicosis among mine workers. Due to poor pay, lack of options and deteriorating health, the workers get trapped in a vicious cycle, and bonded labour is a reality.

Efforts are being made by many NGOs, and also by the government to provide technological answers to the villagers’ problems, but these have not adequately addressed the issues. To worsen the situation, industrial effluent and sewage from nearby cities are polluting the very water used for irrigation!

People of Jodhpur and surrounding villages however continue to adapt and make the best of the situation provided to them, to survive the environment both natural and manmade, and our team’s visit to the Thar has brought us face to face with their resilience.

- Rajil Menon and Liva Shrestha

Improving water availability and quality through community-led traditional rainwater harvesting methods has ripple effects in improving agriculture and livelihoods in Rajasthan.
Residents of Jodhpur and the Thar desert struggling to make ends meet
How the greed of far-off cities has developmental fallouts that directly affect the people and environment in this fragile ecosystem.
How built structures reflect people's adaptation to their surroundings
The tragic plight of Jodhpur mine workers who toil without safety quipment or access to basic health faciities
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