Updated: Sep 5, 2019
Despite the recurring treacherous droughts, a wave of hope and valor has swept the farmers of a small village of Beed district in Marathwada. The Marathwada region of Maharashtra is one of the most drought-prone zones in India. In the wake of distress mass exodus of the youth from the village, the old and elderly of the Banjara community (nomadic tribe) of Nanewadi village have taken up the plough and hit the parched land to build water recharge structures. This region has seen three droughts in just four years. A drought unprecedented of its kind has rendered the landscape to be one of the most water scarce regions of the country. Team WPN has attempted to capture the narratives of resilience and valor of some of the most vulnerable people in the country right now.
Continued drought in village Nanewadi, Beed district has forced most of the villagers to migrate to the relatively prosperous western Maharashtra to work as sugarcane cutters. Out of the 10 lakh sugarcane cutters in Maharashtra, approximately half of them are from Beed district in Marathwada. Despite having some land, farmers are unable to cultivate anything due to water scarcity. They are compelled to labour for meagre wages and earnings in an extremely exploitative environment.
Gangabai Dyanoba Darade, a 60 year old woman in this village, known as Akka (elder sister in Marathi) is a bereaved mother-in-law. She recently lost her pregnant daughter-in–law due to the deplorable conditions in the sugarcane farm 600 kilometres away from her home. The demise of her daughter-in-law and the unborn grandchild left an indelible mark on akka’s life. In order not to repeat this tragic history, she wanted to do something about the water crisis. Gangabai offered her twelve acres of land for constructing water recharge and soil conservation structures, an initiative by Manavlok, an NGO working in Marathwada.
The NGO is trying to improve surface water storage and groundwater recharge in order to improve conditions in the region. Not only did Akka decide to offer her land for water conservation but also emerged as one of the leaders of the voluntary labour group. The newly turned leader Akka says “I strongly believe that one day my village will overcome water scarcity. That day will not be far when we will have enough water for drinking and irrigation. That day, I would relax at this same place sitting under the shade of the tree along with my grandchildren”.
Death looms large in these parched pockets of Marathwada. Karbari Jaiwanta Keda is a 70 years old Banjara farmer, who recently lost his wife while she went to fetch drinking water in a remotely located pond. Every year, his four married sons migrate to Karnataka in search of work in the sugarcane farms along with their wives leaving behind their children at home. The old couple would look after their grandchildren in the absence of their parents for 6-7 months. Sugarcane cutters are generally hired in pairs, popularly known as jodi. This distress migration of the youth and leaving children behind with the folks is a common phenomenon here. The frail old lady had left to fetch water in the morning but never returned home. Her body was later found in the pond. After this accident, grief-stricken Karbari Jiawanta started voluntary labour in his village hoping his village would have enough water and no one would have to be in shoes ever again.
The drought has caused not only deaths but has also disturbed and destroyed the social fabric of the village. The villages are getting de-populated which is having an adverse effect on the ones that are left behind. Hanumant Shrimant Kedar (40 years old) a government school teacher shared his experience with our team.
“I always miss my friends, especially in the evening when I find no one to chat with. Most of the young people have migrated to other states for long stretches (6-7 months). It’s more hurtful during festivities when there’s a lack of vigour and excitement as nobody’s here’’, he lamented.
More and more people are moving out of the villages. The ones left behind are already in an emotional quarantine and in the absence of the company of others, they get lonelier.
The visit to Hiware bazar, a village in the Ahmednagar of Maharashtra known for best water management practices, was an eye-opener for him. He decided to do something to change the situation of his village. He donated a significant amount of his earning (more than one lac rupees) for the drought-proofing work. He is also volunteering and contributing in the labour work been done. He’s hopeful about this initiative and believes that it has the potential to set up a virtuous cycle by arresting the migration and bringing back his friends to the village.
The story of Nilesh is another testament as to how the young generation in Marathwada is severely affected by the drought. Nilesh, a newly married 23 year old boy wanted to finish his graduation in a hope to get a job opportunity in his own district. Unfortunately, the drought situation in the village forced him to get married at an early age and work as a sugarcane cutter with his wife to support the family. He says, “It is very difficult for us to work in the farms, we have to get up early morning by 4 o’clock and finish the task by late night. Every day we had to cut 2-3 ton of sugarcane.” He belongs to the third generation of sugarcane cutters in his family. Nilesh did not take too long to join movement initiated by Manavlok of restoring water. He immediately joined the voluntary labour group when he learnt about their work. A hopeful Nilesh tells the team, “If everything will be fine next year we would have enough water in the village and then I can plan to complete my graduation.”
We always imagine that drought is just a situation of below average rainfall in a particular area, leading to a shortage of water. But drought is a phenomenon that has so many layers intricately linked to the lives of the people. These are just a few narratives representing the predicament of the people of Beed and their initiatives around water conservation with Manavlok.
Marathwada Navnirman Lokayat (Manavlok) is a voluntary organisation established in 1982, working with the marginal peasant farmers, landless labourers and women. It is located at Ambajogai Tehsil of Beed district and works in 151 villages of Ambajogai, Majalgaon and Kaij Tehsils. The NGO is inspired by the stories of the farmers of the region, who are combating the severity of recurring droughts in Marathwada.