For the women in Anderwan, the nullah they depend on is neither easy to approach nor its water always fit for consumption. Two years after her husband's death, Bano had a narrow escape from a mudslide.
"I could have been washed away, if not for the locals present at the spot. I had to be hospitalised for over a week," she recounts.
The nullah turns muddy during rains, but the stakes are high, especially during winters. Women carrying water slip and fall in the snow-clad path and some suffer grievous injuries.
For Bano, however, the scars run deeper. Years ago, she suffered through two miscarriages due to excessive physical exertion. When she conceived her next child, her sister, who lived in another village, 4km away, moved in to help with the exasperating task of trudging water.
Water scarcity has affected the lives of children in Anderwan, too. Nayeema Jan is a living example of how dreadful things could get. As a teenager, she was accompanying her mother to the nullah, when a bear attacked her. She remains handicapped till this day.
“It was a hot summer day in 2014. As we approached the nullah, a wild bear drinking water got alerted. In no time, it pounced on my daughter. I rushed to the nearby houses and people instantly assembled to chase the animal away. But the damage was done," Farida Bano recounts that terrible day.
"After getting over 250 stitches on her head and leg and remaining hospitalised for a month, she did survive, but she will have to live a life of handicap forever. Had there been water supply to our household, my daughter would have been living a normal life now. Who will compensate for our loss?” she asks full of anguish and anger.
Twelve-year-old Bilal Chichi, a Class 6 student, aspires to become a teacher. The Government Middle School in Anderwan, where he studies, has no toilet block or drinking water point.
“Every morning, we friends go to the nullah to take a bath and carry back water for our households. Our school also does not have any supply, so we have to carry water bottles. It is our dream to see water reaching our homes through taps,” says Chichi.
False promises galore
Most of the residents in Anderwan live below the poverty line and rely on daily wages. Even so, they have pooled some money to buy plastic drums that are kept on either side of the village road. Once in a while, these drums are filled by tankers from the Public Health Engineering (PHE) Department, sparing them from the arduous journey downhill.
Some households also collect water from a leaking pipeline connected with another village down the road. According to Bano, people have made a big hole in it to pilfer water.
Reyaz Ahmad, the 38-year-old village chief, says: “Both Peerzada Mohammad Syed and Abdul Rahim Rather won elections from this constituency. During their campaigns here, both sought votes claiming they'd bring water supply to the village. But the reality is right in front of us. The Government of India has been introducing scheme after scheme to ensure potable water to every rural citizen. This village seems to be an exception.”
"During his tenure as the chief minister in 2009, Omar Abdullah had visited Tangpawa, 5km from Anderwan, and had promised to end our water woes. But we still suffer."
Their plight deserves immediate attention, especially when the courts in the country have repeatedly termed regular access to drinking water a fundamental right and directed that its supply top the list of government's priorities.
In the Vishala Kochi Kudivella Samrakshana Samiti vs State of Kerala, 2006, the court stated that water is one of the primary needs of man, second only to air. Any government committed to the cause of the common man is bound to provide drinking water to the public, which should be its foremost duty.
Furthermore, an official from the PHE Department assures this reporter that the village would receive water supply soon.
“I acknowledge that Anderwan has been suffering. We recently brought this village under the Jal Jeevan Mission, for which tenders have been floated and a detailed project report has been submitted. We expect the allotment within this month. Hopefully, within a year, the scheme will be completed,” says Muzaffar Gul, Junior Engineer in the Kokernag sub-division of the PHE.
“The village has no proper source from which we can launch supply. So we have to find groundwater by installing borewells. We are looking for a place with a good amount of water, after which it will be pulled up to this village lying at a relatively higher altitude. Supply from Kokernag spring is not a possibility as this place is on a hillock 5km away. Our last option is groundwater only,” explains Gul.
A 2019 NITI Aayog report establishes that India is suffering from the worst water crisis in its history with 600 million Indians facing high to extreme water stress and about two lakh people dying every year due to inadequate access to safe water. While the report has specific data from most of the states, it has failed to record any statistics from Jammu and Kashmir.
Bano dreams of experiencing the ease of a tap connection in her lifetime, a dream that appears distant until the administration figures out a solution to Anderwan's misery.
This story is part of our new series — Women & Water, which aims to cover the impact of water unavailability and contaminated water on women.
Edited by Rekha Pulinnoli
All photos: Sameer Ahmed