DHARWAD: The mobile lens caught a woman carrying five colourful, empty, plastics pots while I was trying to capture Tirlapur’s serene kere or tank. It was a hot afternoon for winter. To get to the kere, she has to climb 20 steps, and then descend another five to get to the water. The last two steps are submerged in water and slippery as they are covered in algae.
She negotiated the potentially dangerous part of drawing water by planting her left foot firmly on the last dry step, and the right foot onto a less slippery part of the second one, and in an unhurried manner, dipped and filled her pot with just one hand. She filled all five pots, carried them back to an iron cart that had brackets for each pot to sit in, and started making her way home.
She took time off from her water schedule to talk about her routine, and how she needs to ensure her family has adequate supply of water on any given day.
“I could use a break”, she smiled when asked if she could talk for a few minutes.
Suvarna Mallad would probably do with ease what many struggle to do at the gym every day. She pushes her cart of pots all the way to the kere from her house, which is a kilometre away. Each of the pot carries 20 litres of water. She fills up five pots every trip, and she makes around eight trips per day. This involves climbing up a flight of stairs with the heavy pot, and down another flight with it, securing it onto the pushcart, and pushing the 800 litres of water home each trip. The water thus taken home is used for drinking, cooking, washing utensils and clothes, and for the cattle.
“We get water supply through the tap at home, once a week. The rest of the days, we depend on this water”, she said.
Suvarna is one of the two daughters-in-law of her family. They run the household for all 12 (including them) members of the family. The responsibility of making sure the household has enough water lies with them.
Suvarna can be taken as a representation of most women of Tirlapur, or even rural India in general. Because cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the cattle have traditionally been their forte, the job of making sure the family has access to water has also become that of the women of the family.
The statistics released by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) for the year 2012 revealed that 54% of rural women in India travelled anywhere between 200 metres and five kilometres every day, just to fetch drinking water. According to a report carried by the Hindustan Times, every second rural woman spent 210 hours a year to fetch water. Collectively, these women covered 64,000 times the distance between the earth and the moon, says the report.
In some regions, like in Tirlapur, children of the family also joined the women while collecting water for the household.
Suvarna has two sons and a daughter. The eldest, who is 25, works at an IT firm, she said.
“He doesn’t want to work in the fields”, she added.
The other two, a 12-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter are in school.
“They help me whenever they can, though I discourage them,” she said.
Why does she discourage them, I asked.
“They are children. They don’t have to do such back breaking work,” she said, her expression conveying her wonder at my not getting such an obvious logic.
On how this work has impacted her, she said, “I get very tired by the end of the day, yet I have to get on with cleaning the house, preparing dinner, and making sure the cattle are fed and watered,” the wrinkles on her forehead deepened.
She said he back hurt her every night, and she found difficult to get up if she sat on the floor.
During summer, the number of trips she makes increases.
She drew attention to another woman on her way to fetch water.
“I live only a kilometre away. But her, she lives 3 kilometres away. Her task is more strenuous,” she said.
Asked what would ease her burden, she said, “Give us our Mahadayi thaayi* ”, the wrinkles on her forehead coming alive with emotion.
*River Mahadayi, ‘thaayi’ means ‘mother’ or ‘goddess’ in Kannada. The sharing of the river’s waters has been a matter of dispute for a long time now, one of its consequences being water shortage in some of Karnataka’s districts. Here’s a 101 on the subject.