Last Friday, Action Aid, a non-governmental organisation working to fight against poverty and inequality, put out the short film above titled Water Wives. A five-minute film pointing at several structural problems in society, it depicts a brutal truth about gender inequality: that in some parts of India, a man marries several women just so that there are more hands to fetch water, besides tending to household chores.
The film produced by Action Aid along with Dentsu Mama Lab, has been directed by Jaydeep Sarkar and written by Swati Bhattacharya. In an interview to Ad Age India Bhattacharya said, "The only purpose behind this film is to draw attention towards the 'unpaid' care and work a woman does all her life." A deeply problematic idea in itself, water wives are also a metaphor for the conditions of women at large in an inherently patriarchal society.
It has long been held by feminists that the basic premise of the capitalistic system is built on the unpaid labour done by women at home. In villages of western India where this practice of having multiple wives is prevalent, the birth of daughters is celebrated because they will be able to go fetch water, this Open magazine post reports.
A village named Denganmal has received most attention for this practice. A photo feature by a Reuters reporter on the village in June this year says that, "In Maharashtra, India’s third-largest state, the capital of which is Mumbai, the government estimated last year that more than 19,000 villages had no access to water."
Men usually work as farm labourers, barely making minimum wages, and women walk up to 100 kilometres daily to fetch water. The story of India's poor being neglected is an old one, but women come out the poorest.
Of the many reports published on this phenomenon, most carry quotes only by men, who say that the women are happy in this situation since they are often widows or abandoned by their family or husband. The arduous task of bearing water is apparently compensated for by the security that marriage offers to these women.