Homes in the village of Denganmal in western India do not have running water. The only drinking water comes from two wells at the foot of a hill outside the village. The well is often so crowded that the walk and wait can take hours in the sweltering heat.

water wives india
A woman fetches water from a well outside Denganmal villageDanish Siddiqui/Reuters
water wives india
A woman helps another to carry metal pitchers filled with water from the wellDanish Siddiqui/Reuters

The solution for some of the local men is a "water wife". Reuters photographer Danish Siddiqui travelled to the village about 140 km from Mumbai to see how this practice works.

Sakharam Bhagat, 66, now has three wives, two of whom he married only to make sure his household has enough water.

water wives india
Sakharam Bhagat, 66, poses with his wives (left to right) Sakhri, Tuki and Bhaagi inside their house in Denganmal village, Maharashtra state, IndiaDanish Siddiqui/Reuters

"My first wife was busy with the kids. I had to have someone to bring us water, and marrying again was the only option," said Bhagat, who works as a day labourer on a farm in a nearby village. "When my second wife fell sick and was unable to fetch water, I married a third."

Bhagat's wives all live in the same house with him but have separate rooms and kitchens. Two of them are entrusted with fetching water, while the third manages the cooking.

water wives india
Bhaagi, third wife of Sakharam Bhagat, fetches water from a well as second wife Sakhri helps herDanish Siddiqui/Reuters
water wives india
Sakhri and Bhaagi carry metal pitchers filled with water from the wellDanish Siddiqui/Reuters
water wives india
Sakhri, the second wife of Sakharam Bhagat, washes utensils and listens to his first wife TukiDanish Siddiqui/Reuters
water wives india
Metal pitchers used for fetching and storing water are seen in a room in Sakharam Bhagat's houseDanish Siddiqui/Reuters
water wives india
A picture of Sakharam Bhagat, with his wives, Tuki, Sakhri and Bhaagi hangs on a wall inside their houseDanish Siddiqui/Reuters

The women, some of them widows or abandoned, are also happy with the arrangement. "We are like sisters. We help each other," said his first wife, Tuki. "Sometimes we might have problems, but we solve them among ourselves."

In Denganmal, a cluster of about 100 thatched houses set on an expanse of barren land, most men work as farm labourers, barely earning the minimum wage. Marrying for water has been the norm here for many years, villagers said.

water wives india
A man dries bundles of grass in Denganmal, Maharashtra stateDanish Siddiqui/Reuters
water wives india
A villager sits on a hill overlooking part of Bhatsa dam on the outskirts of Denganmal villageDanish Siddiqui/Reuters

Polygamy is illegal in India, but, in this village, "water wives" are common.

"It is not easy to have a big family when there is no water," said Namdeo, another villager who has two wives.

water wives india
Namdeo poses with his wives Shivarti and Bagabai outside their house in DenganmalDanish Siddiqui/Reuters
water wives india
Bagabai, first wife of Namdeo, combs her hair inside their house in DenganmalDanish Siddiqui/Reuters
water wives india
Shivarti, Namdeo's second wife, empties a water pitcher as she gets ready to fetch water from a well outside the villageDanish Siddiqui/Reuters
water wives india
Shivarti, the second wife of Namdeo, holds her grandson while carrying metal pitchers filled with water from a well outside the villageDanish Siddiqui/Reuters
water wives india
An old photo of Namdeo and Bagabai hangs on a wall inside their houseDanish Siddiqui/Reuters

The families are suffering the consequences of a critical shortage of safe drinking water in India's villages, as well as the fallout from the most severe drought that his state has faced in a decade.

The government estimated last year that more than 19,000 villages in Maharashtra state had no access to water. India is again facing the threat of a drought this year, with monsoon rains expected to be weaker than average.