Indian men wed multiple wives so women can fetch water for household

Indian men wed multiple wives so women can fetch water for household
Sakharam Bhagat, 66, poses with his wives, Sakhri, Tuki and Bhaagi (L to R) inside their house in Denganmal village, Maharashtra, India, April 20, 2015.

In the parched village of Denganmal, in western India, there are no taps.

The only drinking water comes from two wells at the foot of a nearby rocky hill, a spot so crowded that the sweltering walk and wait can take hours.

For Mr Sakharam Bhagat, as for many others in the hamlet about 140km from Mumbai, the answer was a "water wife".

Mr Bhagat, 66, now has three wives, two of whom he married solely to ensure that his household has water to drink and cook.

"I had to have someone to bring us water, and marrying again was the only option," said Mr Bhagat, whose work as a labourer on a farm in a nearby village keeps him so busy he has no time to collect water himself.

"My first wife was busy with the kids. When my second wife fell sick and was unable to fetch water, I married a third."

He and his family are suffering the consequences of a critical shortage of safe drinking water in India's villages, as well as the fallout from the most severe drought that his state, Maharashtra, has faced in a decade, Reuters reported.

In Maharashtra, India's third-largest state, the government estimated last year that more than 19,000 villages had no access to water.

And India is again facing the threat of a drought this year, with monsoon rains expected to be weaker than average.

In Denganmal, a cluster of about 100 thatched houses set on an expanse of barren land, most men work as farm labourers, barely earning the minimum wage.

Mr Bhagat's wives all live in the same house with him but have separate rooms and kitchens. Two of them are entrusted with fetching water, while the third manages the cooking. He has six children, all with his first wife.

Polygamy is illegal in India, but, in this village, "water wives" are common.

"It is not easy to have a big family when there is no water," Mr Namdeo, who has two wives, said.

Mr Bhagat added that the women, some of them widows or abandoned, are also happy with the arrangement.

His first wife, Tuki, said: "We are like sisters. We help each other. Sometimes we might have problems, but we solve them among ourselves."

This article was first published on June 5, 2015.
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