Hunger, child marriage, prostitution: How drought hurt women, Dalits more

New Delhi: India’s worst drought in decades is hurting women and lower-caste Dalits disproportionately, with impacts ranging from malnutrition to early marriage to prostitution, activists say.

The government estimates the drought has affected more than 330 million people – almost a quarter of India’s population – across 13 of the country’s 29 states.

Varsha Deshpande, a lawyer and women’s rights activist in Maharashtra told a Thomson Reuters Foundation that “Women are the most vulnerable during drought because it is their duty to fetch water and provide food for the family”.

“Women are a many exposed during drought given it is their avocation to fetch H2O and yield food for a family,” pronounced Varsha Deshpande, a counsel and women’s rights romantic in Maharashtra state, one of a misfortune strike by a drought.

“She is a initial to arise up, she walks a farthest to fetch water, she cooking final – and substantially a least, and she sleeps last. This takes a fee on her health, her menstrual cycle, and affects her reproductive cycle”.

As crops swab and stock perish, tens of thousands of people are migrating in hunt of food, H2O and jobs, withdrawal behind women, children and comparison family members who are exposed to tellurian traffickers.

Girls are being pulled from propagandize to assistance fetch H2O or to take caring of younger siblings while a mom gets water.

Men are abandoning their families to hunt for jobs, and some organisation are marrying mixed times only so there is someone can fetch water.

Polygamy is bootleg in India, and these “water wives” – or ‘paaniwaali bai’ in a internal denunciation – have few rights.

“Abuses opposite women boost during drought – women forced to turn prostitutes, organisation perfectionist some-more dowry to recompense for reduce plantation incomes, and some-more dowry deaths if a women can’t detect given they are malnourished,” pronounced Deshpande.

“We are also observant an boost in child marriage, as relatives try to safeguard a reserve of girls. And a large boost in child work given they need a additional money,” she said.


Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi has asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to declare the drought a national emergency, saying that the lives of more than 160 million children are at stake.

The Supreme Court recently criticised authorities for delays in responding to the drought, saying that some states had an “ostrich-like attitude” towards the calamity.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has urged banks to lend to small farmers, and asked state officials to step up relief measures to ensure no one is left out.

However, relief measures are not reaching some of the most marginalised people in the country: landless low-caste Dalits.

Dalits are more vulnerable to disasters because of their marginal social standing and discrimination. They also tend to live in settlements segregated from mainstream society, according to National Dalit Watch.

“Most Dalits are sharecroppers whose names are not in the records of the landowners, so they miss out on government relief,” said Rajesh Singh of National Dalit Watch.

The lobby group has tracked discrimination against low-caste villagers after disasters since the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, and including the December floods in Chennai.

“They are neglected by default and by design, as they are not counted in the census and they are denied coping mechanisms such as government jobs and subsidised rations by high-caste villagers and local officials,” Singh said.