Premchand redux: Girl killed over water

Fights over water are increasingly turning vicious, with a girl in Madhya Pradesh losing her life after being shot in the eye with an arrow – the situation akin to a Premchand story

yogesh

Yogesh Rajput | April 16, 2016


#Madhya Pradesh   #water crisis   #Premchand  


Oppression of the common man at the hands of the high and mighty was a central theme in many of the thought-provoking stories written by literary legend, Premchand. One such story was ‘Thakur ka Kuan’ (landlord’s well).

The ambience, in the narrative, is set in a village where a man named Jokhu is shown to be pretty ill and yearning for water. There is a common well for villagers but its water has been contaminated by the body of an animal. Thus, the water is no longer fit for drinking.

The only other well nearby belongs to a local landlord but asking him for water is nothing short of getting beaten up by his henchmen. But Jokhu’s wife Gangi is desperate to find a way out; she can no longer see her husband so unwell. After much thought, Gangi decides to steal water from the landlord’s well.

So, in the dark of the night when everyone goes inside their shelters, Gangi creeps towards the well with a bucket in hand. Just when she is pulling out water from the well, the landlord’s voice is heard. Gangi panics, leaves everything behind and runs towards her house without looking back. Upon reaching home, she unfortunately sees her husband drinking the contaminated water as he can no longer hold his thirst.

In the story, Gangi was lucky to have escaped the wrath of the landlord but in Madhya Pradesh’s Alirajpur district, 13-year-old Surmada was not. She was shot in the eye with an arrow for drawing water from a ‘private’ hand-pump by its ‘owner’.

On April 10, Surmada’s house in Chhota Bhawata village, Alirajpur, went short of water. As directed by her father, Surmada, along with her brother and uncle, went to fetch water from a nearby hand-pump. They managed to find one but it apparently ‘belonged’ to one Inder Singh. When the three tried to draw water from the pump, Inder and his son came out of their house and asked them with whose permission they were taking out water. A heated argument followed and soon, Inder and his son took out bows and arrows and started shooting at the trio. One of the arrows pierced through the left eye of Surmada, leaving her dead. The accused then fled from the spot.

Water has become a major issue in many parts of India. Bundelkhand, Latur and several other places that have not yet hit the national limelight, are going through a water crisis. From independent studies and news reports talking about high number of farmer suicides in Bundelkhand to trains transporting water to Latur to IPL matches being shifted out of Maharashtra, the situation is indeed alarming.

But the incident in Alirajpur is about more than just the severe water crunch. It speaks of the informal and intrinsic hierarchical setup that remains prevalent in the Indian society. When a crisis occurs and help is sought, many with resources often turn their backs on the needy. Premchand wrote Thakur ka Kuan nearly a century ago, but its plot still resonates in the current times.
 

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