A couple of days ago, I read an article in Open Magazine about Indian performance artist, Inder Salim cutting off his finger.
“One hot April morning, I chopped off the little finger of my left hand and threw it into the dead river called Yamuna. They call me crazy. But I call it art.”
It seemed quite a brave thing to do to make a point and I’m not going to give him a hard time for being so literal about highlighting the state of Delhi’s famous river.
The Yamuna is one of India’s greatest rivers. Holy to Hindus, The Imperial Gazetteer of India in 1909 mentions the waters of Yamuna distinguishable as “clear blue” as compared to silt-ridden yellow of the Ganges. Unfortunately, the Yamuna that runs through present day Delhi is an open sewer and clinically dead.
I was so intrigued by Delhi’s water situation a couple of years ago and made some work around it that became a film for More4 news. You can see the piece here.
The point was that Delhi’s water wasn’t in this hellish state as the result of appalling poverty – all those pesky poor people washing and cremating themselves in it – rather a complete lack of infrustructure around water management and wholescale pollution by industry. That hasn’t stopped the Delhi authorities evicting thousands of poor Delhi-wallahs that lived on its banks over the last few years.
There are perfectly sensible answers to the state of the Yamuna – Indian answers too. Brilliantly articulated by Sunita Narain, Director for the Centre for Science and Environment, she says: ‘A city will be more efficient if it collects water locally, supplies it locally and disposes waste locally’. There’s an excellent piece by her here.
Anyway, as Delhi looks forward to the 2010 Commonwealth Games, I’m hoping that someone will finally listen to Narain and the other Indian environmentalists, too numerous to mention, whose message about water, the city and sustainability has yet to seep into the murky waters of government. But I’m sure they will be able to smell it…
India - Delhi - A scavenger looks for discarded waste to sell on a home made raft of rags in the Yamuna River by the Kudsia Ghat in Delhi. The river is so polluted it can no longer support life yet a community live and work on it's banks. This boy uses a powerful magnet to dredge for coins and other metals which he can sell.
India - Delhi - A man made homeless by slum clearance in a shack on the middle bank of the Yamuna River in Delhi by the Kudsia Ghat. An entire settlement was destroyed by the Municipal authorities in December 2006 to clear the bank of people that made a living from scavaging on the river which is so polluted it can no longer support life
India - Delhi - A religious icon half submerged on the banks of the Yamuna River in Delhi by the Kudsia Ghat.
India - Delhi - Rubbish on the banks of the Yamuna River by the Kudsia Ghat in Delhi
India - Delhi - A sewer pipe flowing straight into the Yamuna by the Kudsia Ghat, New Delhi, India
India - Delhi - An old man sits by a temple at the Nigambodh Ghat on the banks of the River Yamuna in New Delhi India
India - Delhi - A man cultivates land by the Yamuna River in Delhi by the Kudsia Ghat.
India - Delhi - Methane bubbles through the water of the filthy Yamuna River, New Delhi. The river is so polluted that it can no longer support life, however a community still live and work on it's banks.
India - Delhi - A group of men come to perform a ritual of casting ashes into the Yamuna River, after a cremation of a family member. Nigambodh Ghat, New Delhi, India
India - Delhi - A man ritually bathes in the Yamuna River at dawn