Men in drought-prone Maharashtra village are marrying water wives

Lata Jain

Polygamy is illegal in Asia’s second largest economy, India but “water wives” or “pani bai” are quickly being sought after by men who face serious threats from an oncoming drought.

As weather reports forecast less rain for India’s monsoon season between June and September, some middle-aged Indian men are marrying women for water.

Monsoon rain forecasts have been lowered to 88 percent for the summer, down from an April forecast of 93 percent,

lata jain

Lata Jain

In the small village of Denganmal, Maharashtra, there are no taps for easy access to drinking water. A local man, 66-year-old Sakharam Bhagat, has followed his neighbors’ example and has married two wives – solely to guarantee access to water for drinking and cooking in his household.in, Denganmal, a cluster of about 100 thatched houses set on an expanse of barren land, most men work as farm laborers, barely earning the minimum wage. Marrying for water has been the norm here for many years, villagers said.

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, whilst the third manages the cooking.

The village, about 140 km from Mumbai in Maharashtra, suffers from a severe shortage of water and for many families the solution to this is ‘water wife’.

Becoming what are known as “water wives” allows the women, often widows or single mothers, to regain respect in conservative rural India by carrying water from the well quite some distance from the remote village.

“It is not easy to have a big family when there is no water,” said Shanker bhau, another villager who has two wives.

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