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Severe droughts across India have affected about 330 million people, roughly a quarter of the country’s population. A region known as Marathwada, in the Indian state of Maharashtra, was among the worst affected, having faced three bad monsoons in a row. In 2015, the region received only 49 percent of what is considered normal levels of rainfall.
Farmers, drawn to the region by government incentives, began cultivating sugarcane, a water-intensive crop that is ill-suited to Marathwada's semi-arid climate. Years of drought have brought even the most resourceful farmers to their knees. Some even took their own lives. In 2015, over one thousand farmers killed themselves in Marathwada alone.
This year, many of the sugarcane mills, which run for about six months every year, shut down their operations within a few months owing to reduced crop yields and the unavailability of water to process the cane. All who had migrated to work the fields returned home with less than half of what they had expected to make. Finding themselves without work or water in the villages during the summer months, many migrated to cities such as Mumbai, Pune and Hyderabad.
Madhukar Pawar, a farmer from the village of Pimpri Deshmukh in Maharashtra, owns four acres of land, which is fairly well off by local standards. But the droughts have decimated his crops and forced him to move to Mumbai where he competes for daily wage work at construction sites and as a municipal cleaner clearing drains and sweeping roads for up to nine dollars a day. “It is well below my dignity to do such work,” Pawar said. “I felt so terrible the first time I had to clear the drains, but I don’t have a choice.”
HARSHA VADLAMANI is an independent documentary photographer based out of Hyderabad, India.
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