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Drought-hit Maharashtra: The waterboy

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On a blazing afternoon, Rehan Qureshi, 11, sprints to the Mukundwadi railway station with two empty pots. He must board the 3.15 p.m. train to Aurangabad, 7 km away. He has never missed the train all summer.

The wells and ponds at Mukundwadi in Maharashtra, where Rehan lives, have been dry since April. Rehan’s mother is a domestic help and his father a daily-wage labourer.

It is Rehan’s duty to fetch water home from the Aurangabad railway station. Tankers visit the drought-hit Mukundwadi every five days, but they charge up to ₹100 for a drum of water, which is not even potable.

Rehan has dropped out of school; he can afford to do this daily journey. On some days his younger brother and several friends also join him. The train ticket costs ₹20 up and down, expensive for Rehan’s family, but still cheaper than buying water.

The train stops for about 40 minutes at Aurangabad; Rehan and his companions rush to fill their pots. The difficult part is carrying their full pots off the train at Mukundwadi — the Hyderabad-bound train stops only for a minute here. “Often, policemen shout at us and sometimes they empty our cans, but we have to take that risk,” Rehan says.

Prakash Nagre, Rehan’s friend, nods in agreement. “Sometimes we fall and get hurt... Sometimes we carry back cans for other families in our neighbourhood.”

“We have no other option,” says Rehan’s mother, Parveen Qureshi. A month ago, their fears came true when Rehan’s cousins Ayaan, 3, and Shoaib, 8, went missing. The train started moving even as their mother was helping them unload the water cans. The children are still missing.

(Images and text by Emmanual Yogini)

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