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A Train Journey in Maharashtra Reveals Harsh Realities of Drought

This account of a train ride in Maharashtra reveals the plight of many fighting for survival in drought hit areas.

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Latur of  Maharashtra is facing the worst drought ever. (Photo Courtesy: Subrata Biswas/Greenpeace)

I was travelling by train from Ahmednagar to Nanded in Maharashtra. It was summer and the temperature was at an all time high of 41°C.

I stood near the door of the train and tried to catch some air. My nostrils burned and so did my lungs with the inhalation of dry and arid air. I still had four more hours of travelling and facing this heat before I reached my destination.

I had emptied my cell phone battery and the charger in the train was inoperable, as is the case most of the time. I was bored and was hoping the train to run faster. I took a few sips of warm water from my half-filled bottle. Alas, my thirst still prevailed. There were no pantry vendors selling cold water bottle touring around anymore.

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I went back to my seat. There was a scattered Marathi newspaper lying nearby. I started reading it. It had news about farmer suicides and the horrible drought conditions. There were statistics like out of 2,00,000 suicides, 1,40,000 were farmers. It’s saddening to know that the person who toils day and night to grow food is the one himself starving to death.

I looked out of the window. There were unending dry patches of land extending till the horizon on both sides. Marathwada and Vidarbha regions have seen the worst droughts in the past five years. I was looking at what drought actually is. I was lost in thoughts.

Suddenly there was a strong jerk, followed by a lot of shouting and screaming. The train slowed down and came to a halt.

An Indian farmer looks towards the sky, while standing amidst his drought-stricken crop.(Photo: Reuters)
An Indian farmer looks towards the sky, while standing amidst his drought-stricken crop.(Photo: Reuters)
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I saw a mob consisting elderly people, women and children, running towards us. They were carrying empty buckets and bottles.

Those people climbed onto the coach and started running through the train, looking desperately under the seats, perhaps for bottles of water. The women ran towards the train’s toilets to fill their buckets. They would use the same water to drink and cook their food. Bathing and washing was out of question.

As I watched, an elderly man tapped on my shoulder and asked if I was going to drink the water in my bottle or throw it. I gave the bottle to him. He drank the water, blessed me and disappeared into the mob.

A toddler looked at me inquisitively from her mother’s arms. Her eyes told me she was thirsty. I went to my berth, took out my bag and gave her an unopened bottle of water to drink. She held it in her hands as if it was the most expensive thing in the world.

I saw the Ticket Checker and Railway Police running towards the toilet. The remaining people started to jump and run away. They had hardly managed to fill their buckets and bottles, extremely careful to not spill even a single drop.

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Workers fill water in Central Railway train tanks to transport to drought affected Latur District from Miraj station near Sangli. (Photo: PTI)
Workers fill water in Central Railway train tanks to transport to drought affected Latur District from Miraj station near Sangli. (Photo: PTI)

I asked the Ticket Checker what had happened. He explained that this had become a daily thing over the past few weeks in the area severely hit by drought. The villagers stole water from trains by stopping them. A few of them would board a train from a station and later pull the chain to stop the train at a planned location. A mob would then climb on and attempt to steal water.

On being questioned by fellow travellers about strict action, he said all they do is steal water to drink and cook. Nature has been really harsh to them, they do this to stay alive. The TC added that he didn’t consider it a crime that deserved any punishment.

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The train began to move again, I felt grateful for everything I had.

After a while, I felt thirsty but I had no water left to drink, so I filled my empty bottle with the same toilet water that the drought-stricken villagers are forced to drink.

The post originally appeared here.

(The post has been slightly edited)

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