Photo Essay: Tribal women in Odisha’s Mayurbhanj in deep waters

Photo Essay: Tribal women in Odisha’s Mayurbhanj in deep waters

Photo Essay: Tribal women in Odisha’s Mayurbhanj in deep waters

The rising water crisis in rural areas of Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district not only increases the drudgery of tribal women, but also degrades their social dignity and health. The piped water supply coverage is poor here, with only 2,02,390 out of the total 5,56,516 rural households having access to it.

The impact of water scarcity is more pronounced among rural women, who traditionally fetch drinking water from community wells, tube wells, shallow wells and rivers spending around two hours every day. In many villages, poor maintenance and lack of timely repair of water infrastructures such as government-installed tube wells, pump operation machinery, and motor and water distribution pipelines affect the regular supply of drinking water. 

Mahalibasa village in Laxmansahi panchayat under Khunta block is home to 50 households of Ho tribal people. The village does not have access to a piped water supply. The only tube well available provides muddy water around the year. And the 20-ft well built around 30 years ago becomes dry during summer. Rest of the season, only one feet of water is available.

Hence, women trek two km twice daily to fetch water from a tube well located on the premises of a stone crushing unit. Their evening task is more difficult as women often face eve teasing from contractors and labourers working in the crushing unit.

Lali Singh hails from Mahalibasa village in Laxmansahi panchayat in Khunta block of Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district. The village is home to 50 households belonging to Ho tribal communities. “We do not have a piped water supply facility in our village. The only tube well available in the village provides muddy water round the year,” says Lali.  At the age of 48, she treks two km daily to fetch drinking water from a tube well located inside a stone crushing unit. 

Women of Mahalibasa village standing in front of their defunct community well. “We have requested several times to the block administration to repair this community well. But to date, no action has been taken,” Lali rues. Mahalibasa village women fetch water twice a day, in the morning and evening, from the tube well. “It is not safe to fetch water in the evening. While returning home, we often face eve teasing. Contractors and labourers who work in the stone crushing unit pass lewd comments on us,” says Lali. "To ensure our safety, we always fetch water in groups," she adds.

Sabita Bindhani, 51, another woman in Mahalibasa village, says, “There is an old well in our village. It was constructed around 25 to 30 years ago. This well never went dry. Earlier, it catered to the drinking water needs of the entire village. Its water quality was also good. But gradually, the water table went down. As a result, it has gone dry. For the last five years, the situation has remained the same.”

Sulochana Singh, 30, carries her three-year-old son while fetching water from the tube well. “My husband works as a migrant worker in Andhra Pradesh for around four to six months a year. I take my son along as I cannot leave him alone in the house,” says Sulochana.  

   Bandhogada village in Bahanada panchayat of Khunta block is home to 85 households belonging to Ho and Santal communities. Piped water supply is not available here, too. Of the four government-installed tube wells, only two are functional. Women complain that during the rainy season, water becomes muddy in the functional tube wells. The village has a community well, but its water quality is poor and not fit for drinking. During summer, when the water table goes down in tube wells, the village women depend on shallow wells located in their farms. Though the water quality is bad, villagers do not have any other choice. As a result, water-borne and skin diseases are reported during summer.

The situation is worse in Bandhogada village in Bahanada panchayat of Khunta block. Here, there are 80 households belonging to Ho and Santal tribal communities. There are four government-installed tube wells in the village, out of which only two are functional. These tube wells provide only muddy water during the rainy season. In the summer season, they turn dry. There is no piped water facility in this village. “We depend on shallow wells for getting drinking water in summers, though the water quality is extremely poor,’’ says Pratima Patra, 36, who resides in Bandhogada. “Water contains sand particles and pebbles, and is at times muddy. But we do not have any alternative source of water,” she laments.

“There are three shallow wells on our farms, located one to 1.5 km from the village,” says Bharati Singh, 27, a resident of Bandhogada. During summers, we depend on these shallow wells for getting water for drinking and bathing purposes. We face water-borne and skin diseases at that time. Because the water is polluted. It appears muddy and often smells foul.”

Aladi Majhi is a ward member of Bandhogada village. She is standing near the tube well, which has been defunct for the last four months. “The government should take steps to immediately repair the four tube wells in our village,” urges Aladi. “I have reported the problem to the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Department to fix the tube wells. But the district administration is yet to take any action,” she informs.

Photos by Abhijit Mohanty 


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