Trekking to natural water bodies deep in the jungles: How women in this village procure drinking water

In Behla village of Manikpur, Chitrakoot, there is no source of safe drinking water. The women in the village have to walk nearly three kilometers — sometimes multiple times a day — through fields and forests, large swathes of its infamous bandit territory, to source water.

“When I make this trip, there is only one thing on my mind. I hope and pray that I don’t meet anyone along the way, and that I face no problem,” said Suman Devi, a Behla native. She described the route she and many other women frequent: “We come from the village, walking through the mustard fields. We are scared about someone ill-intentioned hiding in the tall growth.” She implied that the fear was of physical or sexual harassment when she added, matter-of-factly, “Of course, we are women. This is our primary fear.”

Chandravati Devi, another villager, echoed the same fears. “I feel scared making this trip alone,” she said, “I only hope every day that there is no problem, and that nobody harasses me.” She has been making this trip for the last five or six years, despite the risks and her very palpable fear.

She is not alone. “There are approximately 80 households in this village, and yes, they all get their water from the well,” said Mukul, husband of the village head Munni, who wasn't available for a comment. As for the water supply in the village? “The water that comes from the tap isn’t good, especially for drinking,” informed Suman Devi, “If you fill a container with it, the water immediately turns red and looks like blood, an indication of the soil in Manikpur.” “If anyone drinks the water, they’ll get a fever and a cold,” explained another local, Lakshmi Devi, “the impact is immediate.”

More than 16.3 crore people in India still don't have access to clean water — the highest in the world. Given that access to water is a basic necessity, and a right protected by the Constitution, the National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) was launched in April 2009 with the objective of providing every rural person with safe and adequate water for drinking, cooking and other domestic needs. By 2017, it was meant to provide access to safe drinking water to all rural habitations, government schools and anganwadis, and was assigned Rs 89,956 crore in programme funds. However, a Comptroller and Auditor General of India report said that the programme had “failed”: despite spending 90% of the funds, only 44% of rural habitations and 85% of government schools and anganwadis had access to drinking water. At least 50% of all rural habitations were supposed to have access to safe water at 55 liters per capita per day by a piped water supply; only 18% actually did.

“We’ve demanded clean drinking water many times over,” said Karan, a Belha resident, “We’ve spoken to the village head, filled out an application.” Mukku, closest person to administration willing to speak to our reporter, did not deny the existence of the problem, but did not seem particularly motivated to address it either: “We’ve made one effort that is to change the supply tap’s main pipeline, which is made out of plastic and was put in ten years ago. It is possible that it got cracked because of vehicular movement.” But in all of these years, the pipe in this village has not changed. Instead, trekking out to natural water bodies, deep in the jungles, has become the norm for these women.

And yet, official governmental data doesn't reflect this failure. As recorded in a parliamentary response, 98.6% of all 2.6 lakh habitations in Uttar Pradesh are fully covered, i.e. get more than 40 liters per capita per day of safe drinking water. Contamination is a non-issue too: of all 109 sources tested in Manikpur, none were found to be contaminated above permissible limits. The Manikpur BDO refused to speak on camera but in person, he dismissed the complaint of the lack of safe drinking water saying that it is a frequent complaint made despite the fact that there are many handpumps in the block. Even if that were the case, handpumps can hardly be called sources of safe drinking water — even though going by Government guidelines, they are, which could be one explanation for the bloated statistics — as they can be carriers of water-borne diseases.

According to the 2011 Census, nearly 56% of all rural households in Uttar Pradesh didn’t have a source of drinking water within their household premises. The burden to find and transport water for themselves and their families, has always, disproportionately, fallen on women.

And eight years later, at least for the women in Behla who risk their safety every day, this reality has not changed.

Khabar Lahariya is a women-only network of rural reporters from Bundelkhand.


Updated Date: Feb 05, 2019 18:52:10 IST