Why this Maharashtra village has a problem of runaway wives

NASHIK : There are no two guesses as to why a happy married life is a dream in Dandichi Bari, a village of 300 people in Surgana taluka, some 90km from Nashik.

Most new brides who arrive are so daunted by the extreme water scarcity that they do not want to stay in the village and return to their maternal homes. Villager Govind Waghmare recounts the story of one marriage that lasted just two days. “The story of one bride in 2014 who went away on the second day of her marriage became very widely known. She followed the other women to the bottom of the hill to fetch water, but when she realised how difficult it was and there was no escape, she left the kalshi (water pot) right there and went off to her maternal home,” he says.

Those who do stay have to walk a kilometer and a half every summer, from March to June, to fetch water from a nearly dry stream at the bottom of a hill. Even after navigating the stony terrain, the task isn’t over. They have wait for hours for the cavity in the rock to fill up with water. They then scoop it with a bowl and pour it into a pot. When all the water in the hollow is scooped up, the women wait for it to fill up again. When they have two pots each, they place it precariously on their heads and walk uphill to the village.

The water-fetching happens twice a day, with the first effort starting at 4am. Women make their way down in the fading darkness, praying they can get enough for the pots before the summer heat begins to scorch the earth. Summer temperatures often touch 40 degrees celsius here. They are back at the water point after sunset. “Filling one kalshi can take three hours and then we trek up to the village in the darkness of the night,” says Laxmibai Wasle, while awaiting her turn.

A bonfire or torches provide some safety from wild animals. Their outlines against the starry sky resemble a treasure hunt party. Here, water is the treasure. The women have to balance two pots of water on their heads and a flashlight in one hand while tackling the steep trail.

As the women wait, the conversation revolves around daily chores and, more often than not, someone brings up the subject of the newlyweds who fled the village because they couldn’t deal with this hardship.

Sarpanch Jairam Waghmare, who tries to provide an occasional tanker which yields two buckets for every household, says he understands the villagers’ struggle. “Many babus and journalists visit us and take photographs of our suffering, but no one helps us. Our village has been drought-struck for generations,” he says. He admits the village has a nasty reputation in the marriage market. Govind Waghmare says the matter goes back to 2008-09 when three married women were so shocked by the water scarcity that they left the village within days of their weddings.

Now, families hesitate to get their daughters married off to men from the village. “Once they know the groom’s village is Dandichi Bari, they discontinue marriage discussions,” Waghmare adds.

Meanwhile, Laxmibai returns with two pots of water on her head. “Our entire lives have revolved around fetching water. We hope the government will do something and the next generation of brides doesn’t have to suffer like us,” she says while heading to catch some sleep before another water trek starts at 4am.


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