Walking along a river bank is no stroll for Jeniben Rathwa, particularly after reports of crocodiles killing more than 10 people in May-June. Even as much fear surrounds the continuing crocodile attacks in Vadodara, Jeniben treads the danger line along the much polluted Vishwamitri river as part of her daily necessity. The erratic municipal water supply ensures that Jeniben, in her late 40s, must walk to the river, flowing along the settlement in Sama, where she lives in her partitioned one-room shanty. Washing clothes in the ‘clean’ spots of the river or relieving themselves, residents from her locality have to tread the danger zone every day to complete their daily chores. Jeniben, who works as a maid, is just one of the many.
“Everyone is scared of losing their lives, but we have no choice. We have municipal water connections, but the supply is erratic. More essentially, most of our homes are without toilets and we have to step near the river to answer nature’s call,” she says.
On a usual day, Jeniben wakes up at 6 am and makes the first round to Vishwamitri to answer nature’s call. Waiting for the early morning municipal water supply, she performs puja at home, prepares tea and breakfast of one subzi and chapattis for her husband, Kanu, a daily wage labourer, three sons and 23-year-old niece Soni. She packs the same into plastic bags for her husband, who leaves for work at 7.30 am. If the water supply keeps its time, Jeniben cleans up her house with help from Soni before leaving for work. If not, Jeniben and Soni cross the dried portion of the river to fetch drinking water from a ruptured water pipeline running along the Vishwamitri. At 9 am, Jeniben readies to go to work. She bathes in her makeshift bathroom, and then sits down to have her single meal of the day. She leaves at 9.30 am, walking the bank of the river to reach the main road and cover her distance on foot to reach her employers.
In the afternoon, Jeniben accompanies Soni to wash clothes. They walk past a Forest Department signage warning people against stepping into the territory. Jeniben washes clothes while Soni keeps a watch. Says Jeniben, “Once the water level rises after heavy rains, it floods my house. Many a times, I have wondered what would it be like if crocodiles came swimming.”