Determined women in India refuse to give up, fight odds as Bundelkhand region faces recurrent droughts
Report by government think tank said 75% of rural households do not have piped, potable water
Babita Rajput, 20, led hundreds of women in the Agrotha village of Chhatarpur district in Madhya Pradesh in central India to dig through a mountain to create a 107-meter (351-foot) long path that provides water to the village pond.
It took 18 months to finish the dig. Earlier, rainwater flowed out through the mountains and did not reach the 40-acre pond.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency for International Day of Rural Women, Rajput said the project shows how women in that region of the country have to struggle for water but they are also determined and hard working.
“Girls start struggling for water from the tender age of 5 or 6 years. They pick up small utensils and start filling water. I also started filling water at the age of 8,” said Babita.
Babita said during the summer, her village of 2,000 people has to depend on two or three hand pumps for water, which often runs dry.
“People have to stand in queues for hours at the water sources waiting for their turn. There are frequent quarrels and brawls. Farming is not possible and domestic animals also perish due to the unavailability of water and fodder,” she said.
Like many villages in India facing a water crisis, women in Agrotha face domestic violence due to water scarcity. Many girls are forced to discontinue studies and the water situation also affects the marriage prospects of young people.
Frequency and severity of droughts has increased
Agrotha in the Chhatarpur district comes under India’s drought-prone Bundelkhand region.
Bundelkhand is a geographical and cultural region that is divided between Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh states. It has a dry climate and the normal annual rainfall in the region is 950 millimeters (37.4 inches) but it has been facing recurrent drought. Actual rainfall is much less than normal as the average of the last decade is only 500 millimeters (19.6 inches).
The population in Bundelkhand is 18.3 million and about 80% live in rural areas. In many areas, women have to travel several kilometers to fetch water during the summer.
Because of those difficulties, Babita and other women in the village decided to dig through the mountain.
“It was not all that easy. The people of 'Jal Jan Jodo Abhiyan' (a nationwide campaign to connect people with water conservation issues) came to our village and they explained that it can be done by cutting the mountain. There were some difficulties, but in the end, everyone came together and it was done," said Babita.
A report by NITI Aayog, the premier policy think tank of the Indian government said in 2018 that 600 million people, or nearly half of the country's population, face extreme water stress and three-fourths of rural households do not have piped, potable water and rely on unsafe water sources.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi on Oct. 2 claimed that every household in 125,000 villages across 80 districts now has access to tap water.
Mission to provide piped drinking water
Interacting with "village panchayats" (local village-level self-government organizations) and “Pani Samitis” (water committees) formed under the Jal Jeevan Mission, Modi said 30 million households had access to tap water by 2019. “However, after the launch of Mission, this number has increased to 50 million,” he added.
The Jal Jeevan Mission, which was launched Aug. 15, 2019, aims to provide piped drinking water to every rural household by 2024.
Rambabu Tiwari, a water activist and research scholar at Allahabad University researching the ponds of Bundelkhand, said: “The promise of providing water to all is unlikely to be fulfilled by 2024.”
“Women are the most affected by the water crisis in Bundelkhand,” he told Anadolu Agency. “Most of the village men migrate in search of work and only women are left and they have to arrange water.”