Beed, Maharashtra: Even before summers arrive, wells in Marathwada tend to run dry. Though glints of water show at the bottom, pitchers sent down come up empty.
But the villagers have come up with a desperate solution: Before they send down a pitcher, they tie children with ropes and lower them into the wells. It is the child’s task to fill the pitchers with mugs.
The wells are mostly over 60 feet deep. The ropes are thin nylon, barely meant to carry more load than a full pitcher. It is only providence that has so far averted a tragedy.
And for this exercise every day, young children are made to miss schools.
For 12-year-old Priyanka Murkute of Marathwada’s Murkutwadi village, water has priority over education.
Every day she is lowered into a 60-feet-deep well, tied precariously with a rope. Every time she descends into the well, she fills 10 pitchers of water and sends them up.
For an onlooker, the process is unnerving. At this well, the exercise is especially dangerous, since it is rocky and deep.
But for Priyanka, this is routine. Need takes precedence over fear and practice has made her an expert. “This has been happening for three years now. This is our only source of water, and I have to skip school at times,” she said.
Groundwater levels have plummeted to 300 feet in several places across Marathwada owing to wanton boring for agricultural use or consumption. And it is the children who bear the burden.
Priyanka’s village is part of the constituency of Maharashtra’s Rural Welfare Minister, Pankaja Munde. And the administration and the local politicians have little to offer than age-old promises of tankers. There, however, is no contingency plan in case a similar drought grips Ahmednagar, from where the water is sourced.