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PICS: The children of Maharashtra's drought

Last updated on: May 11, 2016 15:13 IST

Undaunted by Sachin Kengar and Yogita Desai's deaths, scores of small children in Maharashtra brave the scorching, unbearable, heat to draw water from unguarded wells.

Earlier in the series:

Sachin Kengar, 9, and Yogita Desai, 12, who died while fetching water, may be the two most visible faces of drought in Maharashtra.

Undaunted by the tragedy, scores of small children brave the scorching, unbearable, heat to draw water from unguarded wells.

Rediff.com spoke with the children of drought across three days in Beed enroute to Vida, Sabalkhed, Wanjarwadi, Watanwadi, Kolher, Poitanda and Talwada.

While city folk like us were shocked to see these children risk their lives to get water all alone, as their parents roamed in search of work, adults in the district were not perturbed.

They echoed Nandu, who we met in Sachin Kengar's Vida village later: "What will we drink if we start fearing these wells?"

Meet these Children of Drought.


Reportage and Photographs: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com and Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com

Appa is a Class 3 student in the midst of his vacation. Appa, his parents and a dozen other families from Talegaon have traveled 50 kilometres to Wanjarwadi in search of water and work.

Their village is bone dry.

When we visited their camp, the young folk had gone to a neighbouring village, leaving behind the children with a few old men and women to keep them company.

"I want to become a police inspector," Appa tells us from atop the large boulder he is perched on. Then he gives us a smart salute.

Appa's friends have no time for strangers. It's almost 10.30 am. The sun is burning harshly and the children are playing a game that uses stones as well as coins.

Kalpana Khandagle, centre, and Varsha Raut (black and red dress) need to take care of the utensils that have been washed by Kalpana's mother (in the background). Very soon the girls were to leave with Kalpana's mother to fetch water.

Appa's friends Kalpesh, Krishna and Akash pose for this photograph.

Kalpesh, second from left, is 14 and studies in Class 7 at the Gajanan Vidyalaya, Talegaon.

All these children in Wanjarwadi are oblivious to their families' plight because of the drought.

***

On our first day in Beed, enroute to Sachin's village, we come across Poitanda, a village inhabited by the Banjara community.

A small hamlet, with about 50-odd houses, the children in this village too are enjoying their vacation. The village mercifully has adequate water in its only well to last the villagers for about two months by when the monsoon will hopefully set in.

It is at Poitanda that we get an idea of how Sachin Kengar would have fallen to his death.

The village well is huge, about five metres in circumference, and more than 25 feet deep. You have umpteen children, standing around the unguarded, open, well, throwing their plastic buckets in the well for water.

Pushpa is in Class 6 and has come to the well to get water because her father is out in search of work and her mother is busy with household chores.

Pushpa, standing dangerously along the well's perimeter, flings her plastic bucket into the well. She has a number of buckets to fill before she takes them to her home, about 500 metres away from the water source.

Namesakes Dnyaneshwars wait for their turn to fill their buckets before the man (in white shirt) fills his share.

Payal, yet another Class 6 student, is all smiles as she treads through the muck around her home, having loaded a 5-litre steel utensil atop her head.

Ankit, having loaded his bucket with water and onto his bicycle, flashes the victory sign.

These young girls do not appear to fear the well as they stand on the well's perimeter exchanging stories.

A video that will give you a glimpse of how these children risk their lives while fetching water.

Santosh Lonkar, the only one -- child or adult -- who knew swimming, helps a woman retrieve her bucket that fell into the well. When we first saw Santosh, he was standing precariously, balancing himself along the rocky edges in the middle of the well.

He later climbed up the well, ala Spiderman.

***

As we move towards our car to proceed to Vida, we come across Rahul Donda with his father Dashrath from a family of shepherds originally from Chatriya village, Limbdi taluka in Gujarat's Surendranagar district.

They have about 200 cows in the Talwada camp run by the Maharashtra government and get fodder and water from a tanker to feed the cattle.

Anand Bhele of Talwada village, just ahead of Poitanda, enjoying his perch atop his steel utensil, as he awaits his turn at the village borewell.

Ramesh Walunj poses with this utensil resting on the wall of the well even as the womenfolk fetch water and wash utensils nearby.

***

Soma Patil goes home in Vida village, all smiles, carrying a small plastic pot on his bicycle.

As can be seen from this heartwarming photograph Soma is accompanied by his family -- his father (in a white cap), his uncle (behind Soma) and his sister -- carrying their rations home.

Just above the site where we met the Patils, after climbing a small hill, is yet another plateau, where the killer well that claimed Sachin Kengar is located.

Uttam Ghosh and Prasanna D Zore