Villagers in Kasara Valley deprived of both water and 'water wives'

Young women no longer want to get married to men in Kasara Ghat area, aware that they would be reduced to being beasts of burden

Tribal women carry water in handas
Tribal women carry water in handas

Santoshee Gulabkali Mishra

The likelihood of getting the first ‘Adivasi’ President in the Rashtrapati Bhavan is poor consolation to tribals around Thane. The area boasts of several dams, seven in all, which supply water to Thane, Kalyan and Mumbai. But not a drop of water goes to the adivasis living around the dams.

People are also not allowed to drill tube wells because of railway lines and tunnels in the area. The government has also stubbornly refused to arrange for water tankers to provide water in the area.

Barely 100 kilometres from Mumbai, these tribals in the valley of Kasara Ghat, claims former Sarpanch Suniti Bai, have been living there since long before Independence. But getting water has remained a daily nightmare.

For the 5,000 tribals living in 12 hamlets, water scarcity starts in February every year and gets progressively worse. But letters, petitions and pleas to local authorities, MLAs, ministers and the CM have had no effect.

Men, who go out to the cities for livelihood, depend on the women and children to fetch water. Having to walk several kilometres, often three or more, each way and return with heavy loads of water often make them fall sick. Young boys and girls drop out of school to fetch water, explains Bamanrao Thakre. The men, as in other parts of the state, would marry more than one woman, each time to a younger woman, so that water supply is taken care of.

But young women, especially if they are educated, no longer want to get married to boys in the area. Aware that they would be reduced to being beasts of burden, they give their consent only if the men live in Thane, Kalyan or Mumbai. After struggling in vain to find a suitable bride for five years, admits Rajendra Fodse, his parents eventually lied to his prospective in-laws and claimed that he came home only on weekends.

He himself claims to have given up studies because he had to accompany the women on their daily water errands. “Our day begins and ends with thought of water,” he exclaims.

Ironically, there are several medium and big dams in the area like Bhatsa, Vaitarna, Tansa and Bhavali in Shahpur taluka. The dams and reservoirs supply water to adjacent cities of Kalyan, Thane and Mumbai throughout the year. But for the tribals living within a few kilometres, they have been of little use.

The authorities are oblivious to the social and economic cost of depriving the people of water. The women are also at risk as they negotiate highways with speeding vehicles balancing big handas (pots) on their head, reflects Thakre.

Social activist Ulka Mahajan and Indavi Tulpule, who are associated with Shramik Sangathana, point out that the valley falls in a scheduled area for which there are special funds and budget provisions. Villages too have access to funds from local bodies and there is no reason why water tankers cannot be arranged for them.

The only ray of hope is provided by former MLA from Shahpur, Pandurang Barora, who asserts that the Bahuli dam under construction would supply water to these hamlets first.

Till then these people’s quest for water and water brides continues.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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