Gangubai Chavan must plead for a share of drinking water. “Sarkar! Watchman sahib! Please give us water to drink. I am a resident here, sir.”
But merely pleading is not enough. She has to assure them, “I won’t touch your vessels.”
Gangubai (name changed) depends on water from private taps, tea stalls, and marriage halls. She implores watchmen of buildings like the hotel opposite her ‘home’ on the footpath in Gokulnagar area of Nanded city. And she does this every day, every time she needs water.
Finding water is a daily task, and her search is compounded by the stigma she faces everyday as a member of the Phanse Pardhi tribe, once notified as ‘criminal tribes’. A colonial era nomenclature, it was repealed by the Indian government in 1952. Yet, 70 years later, people like Gangubai fight for basic rights; she has to convince others that she is not a thief and only then can she get a drum full of water.“It is only when we say, ‘we have never touched any of the things you have kept here’, that they give us some water,” says Gangubai. Once permitted, she collects as much water as possible in small containers, plastic drums and water bottles. If one hotel refuses, she tries at the next one, brushing aside the rude owners; she often has to ask at four-five places before someone relents and she gets water to drink, cook and run her home.
Migrants like Gangubai arrive in Nanded from villages and other districts of Maharashtra. “We are here (in Nanded) for eight months, and return to our village once the monsoon starts,” she explains. Families set up homes in temporary shelters on open grounds, footpaths, spaces under overhead water tanks, landfills and railway stations in the city. Their purpose is to secure work for the period they are here and they move as needed.
There is no permanent system to provide access to water to migrant, transhumant groups anywhere in the city. Children, women and especially young girls have to bear insults and violence in their search for water.
Most end up in Gokulnagar, Deglur Naka, Vajegaon, SIDCO Road and near the Hujur Sahib Railway Station, looking for work till they can move to the next city or return to their native village.
Migrants here are from the Phanse Pardhi, Ghisadi and Vadar communities, as well as from Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh and Bidar in Karnataka; Muslims, Chamars and Jogis from Telangana also migrate here. They practise their traditional, caste-based occupations and search for new work opportunities. They also sell handmade iron equipment, pens, balloons, mats, glassware and toys, and sometimes beg at signals or work as construction labour. Anything to survive.
Kajal Chavan from a Ghisadi family settled in SIDCO MIDC Road says they are always on the lookout for water. “Sometimes we ask for water from the water tankers plying on the road. In exchange, we have to work for them,” she says. And she is not the only one. Settlers on the Municipal grounds also add that they must provide labour to private tap owners in exchange for water.
When people don’t get tap water, they must look for other options. On Gokulnagar’s footpath, there is a chamber in the municipal water pipeline. Water leaking from the chamber collects in a ditch under it. “The chamber gets water supply [from the pipeline] twice a week. When there is water in the chamber, it is a day of celebration,” says the local sugarcane juice seller in Gokulnagar.
Little children are small enough to enter the ditch and draw out water. Soil and wastewater from the nearby hotels contaminate the ditch water. But the families in need must use it anyhow for bathing and washing clothes. At least 50 families depend on the chamber on this footpath; there may be more but keeping a count is difficult.
suggests that Nanded city gets 120 litres of water per capita with a total of
80 MLD water supplies every day. But it does not reach those living on the
The Khan family has settled under the overhead water tank at Deglur Naka. They are from Parli in Beed (also spelt as Bid) district, and visit Nanded a few times a year, especially during Ramzan when they stay for a fortnight.
The towering cement water tank offers shelter and they source water from nearby hotels, and the drinking water filter at the government clinic far away. If the clinic is closed, so is access to the filter. Javed Khan, 45, says, “We drink whichever water we can source, whether it is a borewell or a tap. We also drink the waste water leaking from the valve of the overhead tank.”
While migrants hustle for water, privately owned water filters are everywhere – for Rs.10 you can get 5 litres of water. Cold water is available for ten rupees, and regular water is for five.A migrant from Solapur district, Nayana Kale, 32 came to Nanded after travelling the urban trinity of Mumbai-Nashik-Pune. She says, “We try to manage within the five- litre water bottle we buy for 10 rupees.”
People can’t afford to buy water every day and instead buy wastewater – the water that is discharged from the filter in the process of reverse osmosis (RO) filtration. They use this water that is unfit for human consumption, to drink and for other needs.
“If we ask for water from hotels, we have to buy it or else the hotel managers say that they have no water even for customers then how could they give us any?” says Khatun Patel. The 30-year-old lives near Nanded station.
“We do have water,” says a watchman from Gokulnagar, “but we don’t give it to them. We just say that no water is available and shoo them away.”
A marriage hall owner (did not want to disclose his name) says, “We have told them [ people in shelters] that they can take two cans of water, yet they keep asking for more. We have a metered water supply and can’t afford to give away more than that.”
Women and girls are the ones largely tasked with water collection, and face the brunt of refusals. But that’s not all. There is always the hustle-bustle of people on the footpath and no provision for public bathing rooms. “We [have to] bathe wearing our clothes. We bathe very quickly. There are so many men all around. We feel shy, people keep watching. We finish bathing quickly, remove our clothes and wash them,” says Samira Jogi. The 35-year-old is from Lucknow and belongs to the Jogi community, classified as OBC in Uttar Pradesh.
Women from Pardhi families settled at Deglur Naka say that they bathe when it gets dark. They take advantage of the space behind parked trucks and use their sarees to create an enclosure.
From the CIDCO road settlement, Kajal Chavan tells us, “We live on the road. The passersby keep watching. That’s why we have made this small cover for bathing. I have a young girl with me, so I must be careful.”
Gokulnagar resident Nayana Kale has to bathe very early and quickly because she is always wary about someone watching her. Forty-year-old Irfana Sheikh at Deglur Naka says “There is neither any water nor any proper arrangements, so I bathe only twice a week.”
“To bathe in the public facilities, we have to pay Rs. 20 each time. For people like us who live hand-to-mouth, how can we afford it?” asks Gangubai. “If we don’t have that much money on us, we skip bathing that day.” Khatun Patel who lives near the railway station says, “If we don’t have money, then we go to the river to bathe. There are a lot of men who hang around there, so it’s tough for us.”
When the chamber in Gokulnagar gets water, all the young children crowd around it to bathe. Adolescent girls can be seen washing themselves near the footpath, with their clothes on. Women cover themselves with sarees as they pour water on themselves. Perhaps it seems safer to bathe with clothes on than trying to find a flimsy enclosure somewhere.
At the time of menstrual periods, the challenges for women increase manifold. Irfana says, “When I menstruate, I have to make an excuse to use the toilet and then change my pad there. On the seventh day, we must have a bath. Then I have to pay 20 rupees to use the public bathroom and bathe.”“These bhaiyyas (people from other states) keep shouting at us ‘tell your people not to use the toilets here.’ Our people are not accustomed to using the pot/commode, so they sometimes dirty it. That is why they restrict us from using it,” says Gangubai.
Each use of the public toilet costs 10 rupees and for all members of a large family it becomes unaffordable. It’s cheaper to go out in the open. “The public toilet closes after 10 O’ clock in the night. Then we have to go out in the open, what else can we do?” says Ramesh Patode, 50, a resident of the settlement on Municipal grounds.
“We defecate in the open. We feel scared if we have to go in the night, so we take along two-three girls for company,” says Nayana Kale, living on the footpath near the municipal ground in Gokulnagar. “When we are out in the open, the men call out and tease us. Sometimes they even follow us. We must have complained to the police a hundred times”.
The option to that, says Kajal Chavan from the CIDCO Road area, is to “go in the corners of the roads.”
In 2011-12, a City Sanitation Plan was prepared under the Total Sanitation Campaign in Nanded. At that time, around 20 percent of the city population was defecating in the open. In 2014-15, Nanded city had 23 public toilets with just 214 seats, a deficit of more than 4100 seats, says a report . The then Municipal Commissioner Nipun Vinayak implemented a participatory project for improved sanitation, wastewater and waste management under the Community-led Total Sanitation program. In 2021, Waghala Municipal Corporation received the ODF+ and ODF++ (Open Defecation Free) certificates.
However, for the marginalised transhumant communities in the city, drinking water and clean and safe sanitation is still a distant dream as Javed Khan says, “There is no guarantee of getting access to clean, potable water.”The reporter would like to thank Seema Kulkarni, Pallavi Harshe, Anita Godbole and Dr. Bose at SOPPECOM, Pune. Their research was based on the study titled 'Towards Brown Gold Re-imagining off-grid sanitation in rapidly urbanising areas in Asia and Africa’ done in collaboration with Institute of Development studies (IDS).