Of Borewells and Bicycles: The Gendered Nature of Water Access in Karnataka, South India and its Implications for Local Vulnerability


Access to water, whether for agricultural or domestic purposes, is often identified as the most important factor in agricultural productivity and rural wellbeing (Hanjra and Qureshi 2010; Namara et al. 2010). In India, where 68 per cent of the gross cropped area is under rainfed agriculture (Mishra, Ravindra and Hesse 2013), managing fluctuations in water availability and ensuring water access is particularly critical. The government and rural communities are constantly negotiating with and adapting to these water fluctuations. This chapter draws on data from Kolar, a water-scarce district in Karnataka, South India, to demonstrate how changing water availability since the early 2000s (driven by erratic rainfall, groundwater over-extraction, and erosion of traditional water management structures and institutions) has reconfigured household work burdens, and water access and use practices. On a wider scale, privatization of drinking water and decreasing reliance on common water resources, such as streams and tanks, have incentivized competitive borewell digging, which has led to unsustainable water use. These shifts in Kolar’s waterscape have implications for household and community capacities to adapt to increasing climate variability and is reconfiguring gendered vulnerability