Why drought breeds polygamy in this village

Reuters

Posted at Jun 17 2015 11:42 PM | Updated as of Jun 18 2015 08:02 AM

Severe drought cripples life in a village in India's western Maharashtra state, forcing men to marry multiple times in order to deal with the water crisis.

In the parched village of Dengalmal in Thane district, there are no taps. The only drinking water comes from two wells at the foot of a nearby rocky hill, a spot so crowded that the sweltering walk and wait can take hours.

For Sakharam Bhagat, as for many others in the hamlet some 140 km (85 miles) from Mumbai, the answer was a 'water wife'.

Bhagat, 66, now has three wives, two of whom he married solely to ensure that his household has water to drink and cook.

"I know that having two or more wives is a crime. But we don't have water and there is no one else to fetch water for us. The government is doing wrong by not providing water to us. So I also committed a crime by marrying three wives for water," said Bhagat on Monday (June 15).

Bhagat, who works as a day labourer on a farm in a nearby village, said when his first wife is busy with their kids and the cattle; the second wife, Sakri, looked after household work and fetched water.

When Sakri became weak, he married a third wife who has been taking care of the water requirements of the household for close to 15 years now.

Many women in the village fall ill after they are forced to spend days and nights waiting in line at the nearby well in order to fetch water for their families.

"We have lots of physical stress like body ache, back pain. Waiting long hours at night outdoors has also caused breathing problems. Most of the time, we have no energy at all and feel sick," said Bhagat's first wife, Tuki.

Even children who are forced to spend hours fetching water once they come back from school have become weak. This has also affected their future, said Bhagat.

Villagers called upon the government to make arrangements for water supply for Dengalmal and other nearby drought-hit villages.

Bhagat and his family are suffering the consequences of a critical shortage of safe drinking water in India's villages, as well as the fallout from the most severe drought that his state, Maharashtra, has faced in a decade.

In Maharashtra, India's third-largest state, the government estimated last year that more than 19,000 villages had no access to water.

And India is again facing the threat of a drought this year, with monsoon rains expected to be weaker than average.

In Dengalmal, a cluster of about 100 thatched houses set on an expanse of barren land, most men work as farm labourers, barely earning the minimum wage. Marrying for water has been the norm here for many years, villagers said.

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.

Polygamy is illegal in India, but, in this village, "water wives" are common.