June 4, 2015 / 2:24 PM / 2 years ago

Drought-hit Indian village looks to 'water wives' to quench thirst

A woman helps another in carrying metal pitchers filled with water from a well outside Denganmal village, Maharashtra, India, April 20, 2015.Danish Siddiqui

DENGANMAL, India (Reuters) - In the parched village of Denganmal, in western India, there are no taps. The only drinking water comes from two wells at the foot of a nearby rocky hill, a spot so crowded that the sweltering walk and wait can take hours.

For Sakharam Bhagat, as for many others in the hamlet some 140 km (85 miles) from Mumbai, the answer was a 'water wife'.

Bhagat, 66, now has three wives, two of whom he married solely to ensure that his household has water to drink and cook.

"I had to have someone to bring us water, and marrying again was the only option," said Bhagat, who works as a day laborer on a farm in a nearby village.

"My first wife was busy with the kids. When my second wife fell sick and was unable to fetch water, I married a third."

Bhagat and his family are suffering the consequences of a critical shortage of safe drinking water in India's villages, as well as the fallout from the most severe drought that his state, Maharashtra, has faced in a decade.

In Maharashtra, India’s third-largest state, the government estimated last year that more than 19,000 villages had no access to water.

And India is again facing the threat of a drought this year, with monsoon rains expected to be weaker than average.

In Denganmal, a cluster of about 100 thatched houses set on an expanse of barren land, most men work as farm laborers, barely earning the minimum wage. Marrying for water has been the norm here for many years, villagers said.

Bhagat's wives all live in the same house with him but have separate rooms and kitchens. Two of them are entrusted with fetching water, while the third manages the cooking.

Polygamy is illegal in India, but, in this village, "water wives" are common.

"It is not easy to have a big family when there is no water,” Namdeo, another villager who has two wives, said.

Bhagat says the women, some of them widows or abandoned, are also happy with the arrangement.

“We are like sisters. We help each other. Sometimes we might have problems, but we solve them among ourselves,” his first wife, Tuki, said.

Writing by Shilpa Jamkhandikar; Editing by Clara Ferreira Marques

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