A group of seven citizens started purifying step-wells in the Udhampur district of Jammu & Kashmir in early 2021. It slowly turned into a local phenomenon as citizens in large numbers joined the mission to revive their cultural heritage.
Jammu & Kashmir’s Udhampur district is known as the Land of Bowlis. Bowlis are natural sources of spring water that have existed in these spaces for ages. For years altogether, these bowlis served as the natural resource of water for domestic purposes. However, modern development activities such as laying down roads, constructions, accumulation of waste, and other human factors drastically affected the existence of these step-wells.
Around 65 bowlis have been revived so far with the collective efforts of locals within four months. Many people from the district have joined hands to save the natural spring water resources. The district commissioner, Indu Kanwal, was the first to appreciate the work of the citizens through Twitter.
What are Bowlis? Why was preserving them important?
Bowlis are natural sources of water which are also called Dogris. It is an inverted hollow pyramid structure where water gets collected. There are clusters of bowlis in Udhampur, with around 50 to 60 bowlis present in a specific area. These bowlis have been the stars of history with several uses. The citizens of Udhampur used to dip in a bowli for a bath, wash clothes or meet for a chit chat. Due to overpopulation, these bowlis got hidden under the land extension. In addition to this, water pollution due to urbanisation caused destruction. The seepage of chemicals made the water from the bowlis unfit for drinking. Furthermore, road widening, construction, and other human factors were reasons for the death of baolis in Udhampur.
Commencement of Bowli Bachao Abhiyan
Bowli Bachao Abhiyaan (Save the Baolis) was launched in February 2021. There were three main aims to launch this campaign. Primarily, it focuses on saving water. The primary source of water for Udhampur is from the river Tawi, a tributary of river Chenab that flows through the Doda and Udhampur districts. Water from this river is polluted due to overpopulation and piled up with junk making it unhealthy for drinking. There is an immense wastage of water due to the overflowing baolis. This abundance of water can be channelised and distributed to the whole city. It can tackle water pollution in the district. In addition, Udhampur was known for the cluster of baolis. By reviving these bowlis, the locals attempt to bring history back to life. People are emotionally attached to the Bowlis, carrying culture with it. Furthermore, due to its loaded relevance in history, these bowlis are a tourist attraction.
An article in Kashmir Ink during 2018 turned out to be the inspiration for the cleansing of bowlis. An informal group named Friend’s club. R. O of Udhampur started this cleaning process. Bowlis are in the Billan Baoli area of Udhampur. Sharing their views among the elderly and other citizens in the area, they found an opportunity in these Covid times as they concluded to bring bowlis back to life.
How the Locals Went About Reviving the Bowlis?
The team of volunteers were keen to revive bowlis. They started with simple equipment. Citizens armed with gloves and spades would gather on Sunday mornings for the cleanup. “Rising in the early morning to clean up bowlis is like exercise,” shared an enthusiastic Naresh Kumar. He explained the process, “The water is poured out of the bowlis manually by using buckets. Since these bowlis were unnoticed for long, the baolis would be full of algae. Algaes are then scrubbed and cleaned.” It takes approximately 2 hours to clean a Bowli. After every two to three months, the team repeats the same process to maintain the Bowli.
Rise of Water Warriors
The District Commissioner of Udhampur, Indu Kanwal Chib, tweeted about the cleansing work. She was the first one to appreciate the activities of this group. She tweeted about the revival of bowlis and called the volunteers ‘water warriors’.The tweet came into notice by all the citizens motivating them to join the campaign. As the word spread, more people joined the volunteers. “It’s not an individual’s effort. It started with seven members of the locality on an informal gathering. The aim is to bring back bowlis to life. My fellow warriors are Vijay Kumar, Keshav Kumar, Shubham Sharma, Mohan Lal, Ramesh Kumar, Abhishek Sharma, Deepak and Sat paul Sharma ( Retd. Xen Jal Shakti),” says Naresh Kumar.
Thousands from around have started the revival of step-wells. The District Commissioner, Indu Kanwal Chib, has geotagged all the baolis in the district. She has added six more aims for Bowli Bachao Abhiyan to achieve. She also launched another campaign, “Ek Bowli mere Naam”. It aims at allocating one Bowli so that it could be repetitively cleaned and maintained. The citizens are waiting for sponsorship for the whole process of preserving the Bowli.