Nashik, India – Two years ago, when Leela Pardhi was descending a 60-foot (18-meter) deep well to collect water, the rope slipped and she fell into the well and severely injured her leg and hip. She is still in pain.

This dangerous decline is the only way for the 29-year-old discoverer to find water in the small village of Bardechi Wadi in Trimbakeshwar, Maharashtra, western India.

“I thank God, I just fell from the bottom of the well, not from the top. I may not have survived,” Lira told Al Jazeera.

She had to see a doctor and prescribed her medicine, which is a huge expense for a family living on a meager agricultural income of less than 50,000 rupees (674 US dollars) a year.

Two years later, despite the danger, Leela’s mother-in-law Jaibai and 12-year-old daughter Varsha went down to fetch water for the family.

Leela’s family includes her 30-year-old farmer husband Sanjay, their two 12- and 8-year-old children, and her in-laws.

Women and girls in Bardechi Wadi, Nashik District, Maharashtra[Tanvi Deshpande/Al Jazeera]

In the summer of about five months each year, women belonging to the Thakur caste, one of the predetermined castes in Maharashtra, to which most people in Maharashtra belong, use ropes to descend in this well and spend a few hours. Hours to wait for the water to seep into the trench at the bottom.

They need water to meet daily household needs, including drinking.

In drought-stricken communities like Bardechi Wadi, fetching water is considered the responsibility of women. This thankless burden affects their health and economic status and makes them vulnerable to systemic exploitation.

Tribulation can affect women’s physical and mental health. So far, two people including Lira have been injured.

“Women only sleep for an hour or two”

Heavy tasks may take several hours and are mostly completed at night. Women must wait for groundwater to seep from the bottom of a dry well so that they can collect groundwater in small bowls.

This kind of leakage may take an hour to fill a pot of water, and women may take four to six hours to fill a day’s water.

The cow must be taken to a mud puddle far away to drink water.

“In summer, I only sleep for a few hours after dinner, and then I come to the well at around 10pm,” said 30-year-old Sunita Pardhi.

“My neighbor and I did this work together. One stood up and took the torch and pulled up the bucket, while the other climbed down. The women in this village only sleep for an hour or two in summer.”

People in Bardechi Wadi watch the water level after the first rain in June [Tanvi Deshpande/Al Jazeera]

The women climbed down from the well using the iron spirit level like a ladder. At the last step, near the halfway mark, they used the rope tied there to descend further. Girls usually wrap the rope around their toes and calves, while holding the rope with their hands and sliding down. But not all women can do this.

Only 10 to 12 women in this village can descend with ropes, which means that some families have to ask one of the women for help.

“Men think that irrigation is a woman’s job”

Puja Pardhi, a 16-year-old student, spends up to four hours a day fetching water for her family of eight.

“This doesn’t mean that we don’t have to do other housework. We must do the same,” she told Al Jazeera.

Puja Pardhi also uses ropes to descend into the well in summer [Tanvi Deshpande/Al Jazeera] (limited use)

For Bardechi Wadi, climate change, political infighting and patriarchal norms have exacerbated the water problem. The idea of ​​watering the house is an insult to men.

“Men think that watering is a woman’s job. If they see a man carrying a water tank, people will laugh at him and ask him if his wife punishes him for what he did,” has been trying to find a solution to the water shortage problem. Said the villager Nivrutti Pardhi.

Farming and agricultural labor are the main occupations of Wadi residents. They rely on monsoon rain for irrigation and can only grow one crop a year, usually rice or millet.

The crops can support their families, but the villagers do not have the cash to use for other needs. Therefore, after the harvest, many people leave to other villages or cities to engage in manual labor.

Bardechi Wadi is less than 3 kilometers from the dam [Tanvi Deshpande/Al Jazeera]

Residents of Bardechi Wadi said that there are two reasons for the lack of water that endangers women’s health and lives: poor protection or management of water resources, and the indifference of politicians in the region.

The small village is less than 3 kilometers (2 miles) from the Central Weytana Dam, one of the dams that supplies water to Mumbai, the financial capital of India, 170 kilometers (105 miles) away.

Locals can draw water from the dam for domestic use, but even so, Due to the rugged terrain, it takes an hour for the women to walk to the reservoir.

Poor water management

What the women of Bardechi Wadi need is to send water to their village, because the fact that they have to use ropes to descend the well is unique to their village.

The local Take Deogao panchayat (village committee) spends up to 150,000 Indian rupees (US$2,022) a year to rent water trucks for the village during the peak of the drought.

Although the council represents eight villages, oSmall villages such as Dharachi Wadi laid a pipeline there three years ago to help solve their water shortage problem.

In Bardechi Wadi, after the water collected during the monsoon is used up, the well dries up around January or February. By April, the village began to face serious water shortages and was forced to borrow money from the neighboring Vavi village.

But residents of Vavi often accused Bardechi Wadi villagers of “drawing too much water from their wells”.

Climate change, political infighting and patriarchal norms exacerbate the problem of water access [Tanvi Deshpande/Al Jazeera]

But why are the villages of Trimbakeshwar in Nashik traditionally receiving plenty of rain, but why are there water shortages? Experts say that the answer lies in water management.

“The development of groundwater resources is a major factor here. There are many wells and boreholes in Nashik, but it has “over-exploited blocks” (areas where groundwater is over-exploited), which may be caused by the cultivation of grapes and onions. ,” said Uma Aslekar, a senior scientist at the U.S. Advanced Center for Water Resources Development and Management. Pune told Al Jazeera.

“In the Trimbakeshwar Mountains, there is plenty of rain, but the terrain of the area is undulating, lacking a well-developed underground water source and tribal population,” she added.

However, local Block Development Officer (BDO) Kiran Jadhav believes that the groundwater level in the area has been drying up.

“Although it is raining heavily here, the earth’s water storage capacity is poor due to the rocky terrain. In the past, the groundwater level was good, but it has been depleted. This may be caused by geological activities such as small faults or earthquakes (earthquakes). .”

But the problem is not impossible to solve.

In 2019, after a video about women’s feat of defying death went viral on social media, a new pipeline was approved for use in Bardechi Wadi from a well near the dam.

The water will be drawn from the perennial wells and piped to a storage tank in the village. Most of the work of laying the pipeline has been completed.

Hiraman Khoskar, a member of the Parliament of Maharashtra from the region, believes that the water shortage in the region will end, but the pipeline has not yet been put into use. The auxiliary project has yet to be completed, and the village committee, which should have paid for it, is short of funds.

Although BDO Jadhav asserts that the shortage is not the main problem and that the pipeline will start working next year, Leela has her doubts.

She told Al Jazeera: “We had to work hard to simply start the wheels to get the pipeline here.”

“It feels like the government is waiting for someone to die before doing something. Only by seeing it with my own eyes can I believe this work is complete.”

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