Nalgonda, Telangana: Four months into a pregnancy, 22-year-old Aruna has little choice but to shrug off the doctor’s advice to not lift heavy things.
With a four-year-old in tow and two pots on her head, she joins her neighbours from a tribal hamlet in Telangana’s Nalgonda district to walk a kilometre through dried-up cotton fields and fetch as much as 50 litres of water. It is a sight that could easily be mistaken for the parched deserts of Rajasthan.
“My mother-in-law just had a surgery for her leg. She cannot carry weights and walk distances,” she says.
For the women in Deyyam Banda Thanda, the day begins much before sunrise. They have to finish cooking and household chores to be off by 6 am to fetch water – but only if a series of fortunate coincidences from the availability of electricity to the turning on of a pump happen on time.
“Thankfully, we are getting water from this borewell at walking distance from our village,” says Maroni, one of the women. “It often takes two to three hours for one round,” she adds.
“There are fights at the water pump and also at home. Everyone wants the water. There are too many women at the tap and you never know when the electricity goes off. Then tempers run high,” she explains.
And the men of the village do not help. “The fights happen because work at home like cooking, looking after children, gets neglected since so much time goes in just getting water. Besides, we are not able to go to work, so that adds to their irritation,” says Phuli.
The women say there is hardly any work available in the village because there is a drought and there is no work on the field. The only choice for work is under the government’s employment scheme or MNREGA but that is usually always far from their village.
“But with no water in village, it is either water or work,” Susheela says.
With the women away fetching water, little girls like Renuka, barely eight years old, are left carrying around siblings more than half their own size.
“What to do? Children often come running behind us when we go to get water. It is scorching hot. They can’t walk the whole distance. It is not possible to carry them and carry the water as well over such long distances. So the older girls are left in-charge of the younger ones,” Mamutha says.
Bhikni is an elderly woman who looks older than the sixty years she says she is. “I have to carry water every day and end up with aching shoulders and back,” she explains.
Most girls here get married, or even have a first child, by the time they are 15. Aruna’s pregnancy is her third. She had undergone an abortion last time.
A “pedda” operation or a hysterectomy at a very early age is also quite common here. Doctors say this plays havoc with their hormones, making bones brittle and physical work difficult.
As a result, sons are married off early to get in a young daughter-in-law. The cycle of early childbirth and health issues continues. The drought and dearth of water only adds to their bucket of woes.