22-year old Omkar Gundayya faints half-way through her journey home from work. The exhausted master’s degree student has not eaten any food for almost six days in a row. Omkar’s family comes from the Indian region of Marathwada, which is among the areas most hit by the drought. Consequently, his family is not able to provide for him. Forced by circumstance, Omkar has to undertake part-time jobs to fund his education and provide for his family back in the Kurunda village of Hingoli.
Throughout the week, Omkar attends classes for the social services degree that he is pursuing. At weekends, however, he works for a catering services company as a waiter.
“Unlike my classmates and friends, I cannot relax, watch movies or go out on short trips at weekends. I have to work, otherwise it is difficult for me to meet my food, education or living expenses. Moreover, for the past few years the government has been reducing the funds allocated to educational institutions. This has been leading to a rise in fees, which adds to our woes,” says Omkar.
Like Omkar, thousands of students hailing from Marathwada have been taking up part-time jobs as waiters, security guards, typists or shop keepers, to meet not just their expenses, but also of their families.
According to reports, water reserves in Maharashtra have plummeted to an alarming 19%, leading to the fourth drought in the past six years. The Marathwada region, which mainly relies on agriculture, is affected the most. With scarce water resources and poor irrigation facilities, the farmers and farm workers are out of work during these summer months in their villages. With no money or work prospects, they are dependent on these young students doing their best to balance their education with these part-time jobs.
“Most of the students who come from these areas have been told by their families to fund their own maintenance. We have been helping them to find these students temporary work assignments which they can undertake during their free time,” says Kuldeep Ambekar, a student who started the organisation ‘Student Helping Hands’.
A local of the Ambi village in Osmanabad, he has been witnessing the impact of consecutive droughts himself. Kuldeep says that no one can understand their plight better. “Students are forced to opt out of education for these reasons. We do not want them to get stuck in this vicious circle of poverty for the lack of education which is the reason why we started helping them out,” he says, further adding that depending on how many assignments they pick up, these students make something around Rs 2000 to 5,000 per month; a paltry sum to meet their own educational expenses and support the family.
“Half of whatever I earn (around Rs 2000) goes to my family. The rest of this money is for fees and to meet my hostel and food expenses. After all of this, there is no money left. At times, if there are medical or other emergencies at home, all the money needs to be sent home,” says Sunil Jadhav, who hails from Digraj in Jintur Taluka.
It is for times like this, Kuldeep says, that they have also started taking up sponsorships and donations which help them provide free tiffin services for these students. Presently, the group is serving daily meals to 600 students.
Female students, the worst hit
Swati Sonawane, the secretary of Student Helping Hands, says that while the male students are more open to work self-sponsoring their education, the female students are still a bit reluctant. This reluctance stems from the fact that people from these areas are still conservative when it comes to women working. “The ratio of female to male students willing to work must be 1:10,” she says.
Owing to this, Swati says that many women are opting out of education. “When the hostel, food and educational expenses cannot be met, these students are called back home. With the prevailing drought conditions, they find it a burden to take care of an additional person. These girls are thus married off regardless of their wishes,” says Swati, who herself is from the drought affected Ahmednagar district and has been studying the social impacts of drought for the past few years.
The situation in Marathwada
Reportedly, 21,000 villages in the state of Maharashtra have been affected by drought. Of these, almost 12,000 villages are in the Marathwada region. These reports also suggest that the nine major reservoirs in the area have as little as 0.7% of water stock left.
“Forget bathing daily, our families also have to cut down on the amount of water they consume. Doctors’ advice to people is to drink 2-3 litres water daily. But considering the efforts needed to source the water, their water consumption is way below the daily requirement. Making the situation worse is the temperatures, which often rises above 40 degrees,” says Sunil.
In addition, Omkar says all this is taking a toll on peoples’ health. “Kidney stones have become a very common problem amongst the villagers. Furthermore, the severe dehydration is also making them susceptible to heat strokes,” he says.