Indian men in a drought-stricken village are marrying multiple women in order to fetch drinking water for their household. Villagers in Denganmal in western India rely on two wells for drinking water, but the sweltering walk and wait at the crowded spot can take hours. The answer? A "water wife,” villagers told Reuters.
Polygamy is outlawed in India, but “water wives” have become the norm in Denganmal as India faces the threat of another drought this year. Sakharam Bhagat, 66, now has three wives, two of whom he married just to ensure his family had enough water to drink and cook with.
“I had to have someone to bring us water, and marrying again was the only option,” Bhagat, who works as a day laborer on a nearby farm, told Reuters on Thursday. “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 lives with his wives and children in the same house, but each wife has a separate room and kitchen. Two of the wives are charged with fetching water while the third cooks the meals. Some of the women in the village are happy to be taken as “water wives” because they were widowed or abandoned, Bhagat told Reuters.
Denganmal is one of the many villages in Maharashtra state that suffers from a critical shortage of safe drinking water. Last year, the Indian government estimated that more than 19,000 villages in the state had no access to water.
India’s meteorological department predicted monsoon rains to be weaker than average this year, spreading fears of yet another drought. The rains are not just crucial for drinking water but also for India’s farmers and the economy, the Times of India reported. If the forecast is true, the situation could turn dire for the country's parched villages.
Hundreds of people have died from dehydration and heat stroke in recent weeks due to high temperatures amid water shortages. The death toll exceeded 1,800 people last week as temperatures hovered around 109 degrees Fahrenheit in various parts of the country, the Associated Press reported.