The Hill Kharias of Odisha are a particularly vulnerable tribal group living in the Mayurbhanj district. The group lacks access to potable drinking water and is dependent on dirty and muddy water from wells. The women have to wait for hours to draw the water, whose use and consumption is giving them and their kids waterborne diseases
In the scorching heat, the Kharia women at Gobardhansol village in Mayurbhanj depend on a handmade well, the only source of drinking water for 28 households. However, the water quality is poor and smells foul. Photo: Abhijit Mohanty
The well is about six metres in depth, but its water level is around 60 centimetres in summer. “During April-May, the water level drops to around 30 centimetres,” said Sunita Dehuri, a village woman. The state government’s public works department occasionally sends water tankers to the village. But that’s not sufficient for all the households, she added. Photo: Abhijit Mohanty
Once water is drawn from the well a couple of times, the level drops and the rest turns completely muddy. Other women must wait an hour or two until the well recharges with water. Photo: Abhijit Mohanty
Kharia women often prefer storing water in steel pitchers as it is easier to wash and clean. “Earlier, we used to fetch water in earthen pots. But now, since the water quality is bad, earthen pots are difficult to maintain,” said Sume Dehuri, an elderly Kharia woman. Photo: Abhijit Mohanty
A tube well installed by authorities has been lying defunct for more than three years, said Meenati Dehuri, another resident. “There is another similar defunct tube well in the village. We don’t know why the government is not repairing it,” she said. Photo: Abhijit Mohanty
In the last five years, the villagers have seen rising cases of waterborne diseases like skin rashes, stomach upset and typhoid. Children suffer the most and many suffer from various skin issues. “We drink and use the same dirty water to take baths. We don’t have any other options,” said Kati Dehuri, the village’s traditional leader. Photo: Abhijit Mohanty
The Hill Kharia speak an Austroasiatic language. They were once semi-nomadic and forest gatherers primarily living in the Karanjia and Jashipur block forests in the Mayurbhanj district. During 1986-87, the Hill Kharias were resettled in the forest fringe of Similipal Biosphere Reserve. Photo: Abhijit Mohanty
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.
Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.