Water Scarcity Leads To Polygamy In This Maharashtra Village

Bhubaneswar: Water is one of the basic essentials of life on planet earth. However, many people all over the world do not have access to clean drinking water and sometimes, even water.

This situation is common in drought-hit areas of India. Maharashtra is one such state in the country where several districts face drought every year.

To deal with water crisis, one village here has come up with an unusual solution– indulging in polygamy. This means having more than one wife to procure water, termed as the ‘water wives’.

Denganmal is a small village in western Maharashtra, located some 185 km away from the capital city Mumbai. The village is situated on rocky terrain and has a population of 500. The houses here have no water pipeline connections and the area experiences drought in the hot summer months.

The only source of water available to the villagers here is the Bhatsa dam on a river and a well. Both are situated so far away that, a journey to-and-fro takes nearly 12 hours. Not only is the trip arduous and long, but also time-consuming, leaving little or no time for other chores.

Most men in Denganmal are farmers. While the men are away from home the entire day, all household chores fall upon the woman. Taking care of children, cleaning, cooking, and other everyday jobs become impossible to attend to by the women if fetching water takes up most of their day.

Furthermore, the women and children are also expected to help out the men in the farms during the cropping season, July to October. This led to the most convenient solution at hand, marrying another woman whose sole responsibility is to fetch water for the entire family. Hence the term, ‘water wives’ or, as they are more commonly referred to, ‘paani bai’.

The ‘paani bai’ leaves at sunrise, trudging through the rocky terrain, through the hills, to the river or well in the smouldering heat. Each vessel holds 15 litres of water and each woman carries 2 to 3 such vessels.

The water wife is often, either a widow or, an unmarried woman whose dowry could not be afforded by her family. By becoming water wives, they regain their marital status and are accepted as a part of the society, again. Whether it is a boon for them or not is something that does not cross their minds, as long as they are provided for and accepted in the family.

Sakharam Bhagat, who has the largest family in the village, married three times. His second and third wife ensure that his household has water to drink and cook. “I had to have someone to bring us water, and marrying again was the only option,” said Bhagat, who works as a day labourer on a farm in a nearby village.

“My first wife was busy with the kids. When my second wife fell sick and was unable to fetch water, I married a third,” he added.

Bhagat’s wives all live in the same house with him but have separate rooms and kitchens. Two of them are entrusted with fetching water, while the third manages the cooking.

Maharashtra is the third largest state in India. According to an estimate, more than 19,000 villages had no access to water. To tackle the water crisis in the state, the Maharashtra Government has launched ‘Jalyukt Shivar Abhijaan’ which aims to make the state drought-free by the end of 2019.

Under the Hindu Marriage Act, polygamy is illegal but Denganmal village has defied this law. However, it is high time every house in Denganmal gets a proper water supply so that this evil and heart-wrenching practise of ‘water wives’ is eliminated forever.

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