Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Save the Ganges

This is an auspicious month to go to towns in the Himalayan foothills to get water from the Ganges (called Ganga here).  People--mostly young men, but also some older men and some women--walk hundreds of miles from their home villages to towns that are the center of this activity.  They get the water and walk back home in time to offer some of the water to Lord Shiva on the 8th of August.  (The rest is evidently saved for other rituals.)  Dressed in orange or red, most of these people, called Kanwar, seem to do this trek in flip-flops or barefoot.  If they let the water containers touch the ground, the offering becomes impure, so a popular way to transport the water is on decorative shoulder carriers that can be parked on racks provided for that purpose at stopping points along the route.  We're down in Delhi now, and we see them walking south along the highways heading back to their villages.  These photos were taken in Haridwar, though, one of the pilgrimage cities we visited.

We went there with M.C. Mehta, the father of environmental litigation in India, to understand why is is passionate about stopping the building of large hydroelectric dams on this portion of the Ganga.  The project would destroy the free run of the river and thus the sanctity of the spots.  We also visited Prof. G.D. Agrawal, a prominent scientist trained at University of California, Berkeley, who is in the second week of his third fast unto death to prevent the dam project from going forward.  His first two attempts successfully forestalled the project, but the promises to scale it back have repeatedly been broken.  For Prof. Agrawal the issue has nothing to do with economics or the need for energy but rather is an entirely spiritual concern.  This juxtaposition of spirituality and litigation is a prominent factor in other human rights legal endeavors we have learned about during our stay.

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