Lakshmi Anand Nayak is a 20-year-old woman from Karnataka’s Belagavi district. She lives in Hosavontamuri village located in a valley.
Lakshmi was seven months pregnant when she had a miscarriage on March 15.
“It was a Wednesday and my husband had taken the cattle for grazing. There was no water in the house so I had to get it from the well, which is located on the other side of the hill. It was around 1.30 in the afternoon, I was trekking uphill and I began feeling very tired. I had to make multiple stops to rest. When I was almost up the hill, I was resting for a while at a spot when I began feeling a lot of pain in my abdomen. I was bleeding. I managed to climb down the hill, then I fainted,” Lakshmi said.
The villagers who saw Lakshmi bleeding and unconscious, alerted her husband Anand and brother Anbappa, who rushed her to the Belagavi district hospital.
But Lakshmi isn’t the only one, eight other women in Hosavontamuri village had miscarriages since January because they had to trek up and down the hill for water.
Women like Lakshmi have no choice but to do chores like collecting water themselves. With her husband away for work, Lakshmi had no option but to climb the hill.
“The doctors had to operate on my wife and the baby was dead. She was in the hospital for a week. She is not interested in anything anymore. She has been going to the gram panchayat office almost daily and has been demanding that the pipeline be fixed so that we can get water in our taps,” said Anand.
According to the local Asha worker, Lakshmi Badgeri, the women who had miscarriages include Kallavva, Lakshmi Siddappa, Mallavva, Siddavva Gadadannavar, Lakshmi Anand Nayak and three others.
Dr AS Naragatti, the District Medical Officer said that after the incident were reported to him, it was revealed that this is not the first time, women in the village had miscarried while climbing up and down the hill.
“It is strenuous for pregnant women to trek up and down the hill and also carry water while doing so. Lakshmi was extremely exhausted as she was carrying two pots of water,” Dr Naragatti said.
Anbappa, Lakshmi’s brother, says that his wife, Siddavva too had a miscarriage in March.
“This is the third time my wife has miscarried because of this problem. She was three months pregnant this time. Last year, she had completed almost four months. But the first miscarriage was the scariest for me. She had passed out on the other side of the hill. I came back home at around 5.00 in the evening and she was not there. When I asked my neighbor, they said that the last they saw her was when she went to fetch water. She was bleeding when I found her. I took her to the district hospital and they said that the baby could not be saved,” Anbappa said.
Anbappa lives with his wife and his 72-year-old mother. With no employment in his village, Anbappa goes to Belagavi for work and visits his wife once in two days.
"After the first incident, I had requested my distant relative to come and help her. She had gone back to visit her family for a few weeks and that was when, despite telling her not to, my wife had gone up the hill as there was no water in the house. The third time, I did not know she had gone. I had advised her not to do so," Anbappa added.
The local Asha worker, Lakshmi Badgeri, says that the women end up doing most of the household chores even if they are pregnant.
"The families earn their living through agriculture. Most of the men go to other areas for work and come back at night. Hence, the burden of the daily chores falls on the women," Lakshmi Badgeri added.
Hosavontamuri village was created as a resettlement zone in 1995 when the Hidkal reservoir had submerged eight villages in Belagavi.
Since then the village has been facing water problems and the residents have to trek up and down a hill to get water from a lone well.
A pipeline was constructed connecting the Ghataprabha River to the village in the 1990s, which then became a steady source of water supply.
The water problem returned as the pipeline was damaged in the same year and has never been repaired ever since.
“It has been 25 years since water was supplied to the taps in our homes. There was a pipeline, which was constructed many years ago but that was damaged within months and it has not been repaired since. All 12,000 villagers depend on that one well located on the other side of the hill. This year, there have been eight miscarriages because there is no access to water,” Lakshmi Badgeri said.
The Panchayat Development Officer, Reshma Panewale said after Lakshmi’s miscarriage, the village administration has closed the well and private tankers were supplying water to the residents on alternate days.
“Various panchayat officers, over the years have written to the district administration, concerned MLAs and also various Chief Ministers. When HD Kumaraswamy was the Chief Minister, tenders were issued for the pipeline repair work but nothing has happened after that. We petitioned the district administration in March and they have issued tenders once more. Currently, private tankers are supplying one barrel of water per household to the village,” PDO Reshma said.
The residents of the village, however, refuted the Panchayat Development Officer’s claim and said that the tankers were providing four five pots of water for each household once in four days.
“When Lakshmi miscarried, many villagers had locked down the panchayat office and protested for water supply. The tankers gave us the barrel we were promised on one day. The tanker came back only after five days and they started giving us only five pots of water since then,” said Anbappa.