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Minority and Indigenous Trends 2023: A reflection by Rajendra Singh

20 June 2023

If we really bothered to understand the character of water, not just seek to control water for human purposes, we would be able to support thriving communities that live with water, rather than against it.  

We are telling ourselves that with this or that technology, with this engineering model or that, we will find solutions to water problems. Water is not a problem. Nor is water something that can be understood through modern engineering and technology. Water is life. Water is its own technology.  

You can genetically modify food, but you cannot genetically modify water. Chemically speaking, water is unmodifiable. 

The character of modern engineering and technology systems is based on command and control. Modern engineering and technology dream of piping, channelling and damming the water. We do not antagonize those visions of development, but we say: You will never control water. We say: Your technology and engineering are not for water, or for communities living with water. Modern technology and engineering have been developed only for selfish purposes, for greed, and from a place of arrogance that has nothing to do with water. 

Nature and people are one. Modern technologies and engineering systems divide waters and divide peoples. Thus, you end up with majorities here, minorities there, scarcity here, excess there, too much water here and too little over there. To move forward we need to achieve integration between water and all humankind.  

We call on everyone to integrate water for the benefit of all communities, especially those who are suffering water injustice – indigenous peoples, tribal communities, women, minorities. As this report shows, water is a matter of integration. 

If you do not integrate, so you create a problem. And this problem is in most cases only exacerbated by modern science, engineering and technology. Do not think about technological solutions when it comes to water. Think of a better future. Think of the voice of water – the voice of the planet.  

This is not a very easy task. Yet we have before us the knowledge and strength to move positively into the future. What I know, what I have achieved, was taught to me not by modern science, but by an illiterate and blind peasant from rural Rajasthan. An old farmer taught me how to rejuvenate rivers, and that is what I have devoted my entire life to. During my lifetime, I have restored 12 rivers, and with many communities up and down Rajasthan, we have created almost 9,000 johads – traditional water conservation earthworks – which have not only rejuvenated water systems in the driest region in India. Our efforts have also brought back rainfall – we have restored the climate itself. We did not use modern science and technology imposed from elsewhere, we learned from indigenous, tribal and peasant knowledge keepers. 

Together, we call for a future where water systems are rejuvenated, and where community is once again understood not as a division between us and them, minority and majority, but as a planetary fellowship made up of all living beings, all connected to water. Community is thus understood as a fellowship that includes humans, plants, animals, fungi. 

Together, we call for a future that respects and rejuvenates water systems. 

In March 2023, a delegation of the People’s World Commission on Drought and Flood, which I chair, attended the UN Water Conference. Together, we drafted a pledge to rejuvenate the water cycle, based on some of the principles that have guided my work. 

I encourage you to read this pledge, which has been drafted with kind support from Minority Rights Group’s commissioning editor Nicolas Salazar Sutil, along with numerous other committee members who have helped to make this pledge a clear and transparent call for the future of water. 

This report is a stark reminder that if we do not act now, and if our pledge to rejuvenate the water cycle is not fulfilled, the many injustices committed against minority and indigenous peoples will continue, and water may vanish from the very heart of our communities. 

I kindly request that you read our pledge, that you sign our petition and that you help us fulfil a fair water future.  

Join us in our effort to rejuvenate the planet’s water cycle.

World pledge to rejuvenate the water cycle

I am water. I stand before you as water. Together, we advocate a healthy water cycle. 

Our support is for the kinship of people and water. Through water, we connect: 

  • Person: Every one of us carries water in our bodies;  
  • Process: Every community comes together and can flourish with and around water;
  • Planet: Water gives life and balance to this Earth: one Planet – one Water. 

It is within our lifetime that the water cycle has been broken. Our solution is rejuvenation.  

Rejuvenation is a paradigm shift in thought and practice that goes beyond the dominant human centric worldview. We encourage 10 key shifts: 

  1. From narrow to all-encompassing concepts, terms and frameworks that cover all stages of the water cycle. 
  2. From data and information to Wisdom, weaving minority and indigenous traditional knowledge systems with modern science, art and technology.
  3. From formal education systems to living knowledge that energizes youth.
  4. From wasteful abuse to judicious circulation and guardianship of waters. 
  5. From commercialization to communitization, where community is understood as the fellowship of all living beings. 
  6. From a general attitude of indifference and apathy to organized action and work for water.
  7. From insensitivity to a sensitive awareness of every water body as a unique and biodiverse ecosystem. 
  8. From short-term goals and timeframes to life-long commitments to present and future generations. 
  9. From narrow economic value to broad and fair ecological values. 
  10. From ownership and control to free-flowing water, acknowledging the equitable rights of all living beings.

We hold the collective conviction that fulfilment of this pledge can lead to climate change adaptation, restoration and resilience. These changes will condense in one shift from outer to inner understanding, paving the way for a spiritual life that strives for happiness, well-being and peace.  

We invite everyone to join us in fulfilling this pledge.

We are grateful to members of the World Peoples Forum on Drought and Flood for their collaboration in the production of this chapter.

This chapter is part of our ‘Minority and Indigenous Trends 2023: Focus on Water’ flagship report. Discover all chapters >


Rajendra Singh

Water campaigner and activist

Rajasthan, India