Field Notes: Walking For Water

JYOTI THAKUR

When I visited Rohile village in Maharashtra’s northwestern district of Nashik in July this year, it was for a story about women walking long distances in the interiors of India’s richest state by gross domestic product and descending 35ft into a well to get water, and how water mismanagement and climate change were about to make things worse. 

It was odd to arrive from a parched Delhi to a downpour in the northern edges of the Western Ghats, the mountain chain that runs along India’s western coast.

While I sat on a wooden cot in the verandah of his house, Narendra Tidame, a tall man in his 30s, told me that I had missed watching women walking long distances by a week or so. But the problem was real, as I documented here, and later that day, I saw women who waited for the rain to stop before stepping out to fetch water.

As I waited for the rain to taper off, his wife, Swati Tidame, wearing a green saree and standing at the door, kindly offered to show me around her semi-furnished pucca or brick-and-mortar house, a rarity in the tribal village where she lives. 

The kitchen was designed like a "modern kitchen,” she said, pointing out a utensil shelf and refrigerator, but there was no tap.

"I really wanted to have a sink so I could wash my utensils here,” she told me. “But we haven't got a tap yet, so I still have to go to the verandah to wash the utensils.”

Although the “modern kitchens” are only limited to the dominant caste families of Rohile's 283 households, the tap for piped water is laid in more than 50% of houses in the village, shows the dashboard for the Jal Jeevan Mission, the national plan to take piped water to every home. 

But there wasn’t a single tap in the house or the kitchen. 

Later the same day, I met Monika Tathe, sitting outside her low-ceiling kutcha house and washing the utensils collected throughout the day. The aspiring nurse said that she “hated” washing utensils outside when it rained heavily, but there was no space for a kitchen in her house.  

"Whoever has a tap, it's outside their house. And it only has water during peak monsoon season as the water comes from the well,” she said. “But it's not like the clean and filtered water that comes from taps in cities.”  

The rusted tap outside Monika's family house was of no use to them, and they had no choice but to collect rainwater in blue drums and small pots and pans for the daily chores. But as Monika explained, this was not drinkable water, and she, along with her aunt and mother, had to trek half a kilometre to get water when the rain stopped. 

What moved me, someone who took tap water for granted, was how much of the young woman’s life was spent finding and storing water. 

In Nashik district villages, the monsoon also means it is time to start planting tomatoes, cucumbers and pumpkins. In addition to fetching water, Monika must go with her family to work in the fields. 

“It's very tiring for me,” she said. “I am rarely left with any time to study.”

You can read Jyoti Thakur’s full story here

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