Drought. The word brings to mind dry, cracked earth and scorching, cloudless skies. Rains falter, rivulets, village wells and even hand-pumps run dry, farms turn into dustbowls, trees and foliage wilt and livestock goes thirsty. The spectre is for real this summer and has already assumed alarming proportions. Across India, a devastating drought threatens to spell doom for the already distressed hinterlands.
Take Bagicha Dera, a Pilani tehsil hamlet in Banda district, Bundelkhand. Kaalu, a famished six-year-old from the Nishad community, is at a stretch of the Ken river in search of water. So shallow is the river bed that he attempts to drink directly from his mouth—like animals. Without much success. Kaalu has never been to school and roams about the whole day grazing domestic animals. The 427km Ken is a tributary of the Yamuna, flowing through Bundelkhand, a region straddling Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. The Ken, considered the lifeline of Bundelkhand, has almost dried up and, at best, appears like a shallow muddy drain. In the neighbouring Mahoba district, in Bundelkhand, the Chandraval river has completely dried up, and so have 912 of the 1,385 ponds in the region.
Driving through the searing rural belts of Barmer and Jaisalmer, the border districts of Rajasthan, a shocking scene meets the eye