Or should I say “mothers” because we have many of them. For a dramatic effect, however, “the mother” is better because, well, if you have several mothers then losing one of them is not a big deal – such is the nature of human mind. Same is true about losing the only child, too.
What I’m talking about is Indians going at their mothers with savage disregard for their well-being. Maybe human mothers are still spared but mother nature, mother cow, mother Ganga – they are all under threat. The move to ban beef production in several states is, of course, a move in a right direction, but India still ranks as the biggest beef exporter in the world and fifth or sixth beef producer, behind the US, Brazil, China, the entire EU, and Argentina.
Killing the mother cow does not end there, however, as will be shown later. While slaughterhouses might be illegal in some states, the producers simply move the cows to states where it’s legal and there’s nothing Indian law can do about it. We rarely think of the law as a mother, it’s usually a blindfolded goddess, but we/they slaughter her/it anyway by not following.
People can think of a law as only an abstract concept and Indians might consider their own dharma first so if the law goes against what they think they must do then it’s too bad for the law. It’s hard to make the case for following modern, ugra-karmic laws from a dharmic POV anyway, and certainly not for people who slaughter cows for a living, they are beyond salvation and can’t be reasoned with.
The biggest travesty, however, might lie in Indian treatment of Mother Ganga, Yamuna, and other rivers. It is not done by cow killers but by otherwise respectable members of society, which should condemn the entire India as an entity – everybody plays his part, no one is excused, even so called “conservationists”.
In May BBC ran a documentary on killing the Ganges, it was broadcast globally but to watch it on the internet you either need to find a work around iplayer’s geographical restrictions or find other sources. It was rather short and to the point, though also a bit superficial as well.
They followed the flow of Ganges from Gangotri to Gangasagar, from the source up in the Himalayas to the river delta, and stopped at several places along the way to illustrate their point. Gangotri looked smaller than I personally remember but that might be due to perspective, though the glacier does recede at speeds of up to 25 meters per year. The water there is crystal clear and there’s no civilization to pollute it, but that changes as we follow it down to the plains.
Their second stop was at Rishikesh and there we could see how our human interaction with the river begins – with pūjā. At this point the river is nothing else but divine object of worship and no one relates to it in any other way. As the river flows down more and more people flock to its shores and they bring their materialistic aspirations along. At Varanasi, for example, the river is used to purify the dead. It’s the same crematorium I mentioned in the series on God with Morgan Freeman – a person whose body is burned on the banks of Ganges at Varanasi is expected to achieve mokṣa.
Varanasi is considered by many the holiest place in all of India, the best among the best. It’s also one of the oldest continued human settlements in the world even according to modern science. In this documentary they mentioned the number 3,000 but recently I read about discoveries dating it to 6,000 and beyond. This research has been done by Indians, however, and you can’t trust their science because it’s just as biased as Britishers were in the 18th century. Anyway, as far as mokṣa goes, it’s probably the best. It’s also infected with māyāvāda but what can we do – if mokṣa is the goal then impersonalism is the way. Other places like Mathura are appreciated by devotees only but Varanasi is for everyone. It does an important job.
According to the documentary up to 32,000 corpses are burned there in a year, creating up to 300 tons (600,000 pounds) of half burned human flesh. They showed dogs feasting on what certainly looks like human remains. All of it is dumped into the river.
In this case the river serves not only as an object of worship, though they certainly do that in Varanasi, but also as the provider of liberation and it means a lot bigger exchange with humans than accepting Ganga’s own water, flowers, and ghee lamps. Ganga worship means offering bhakti without any immediate returns, liberation means dumping our corpses right away and expecting the river to deal with them.
Varanasi is hundreds of kilometers away from Gangotri and the major pollution happens before Ganges reaches there. Before Varanasi it has to deal with Kanpur, the second largest industrial center in Northern India after Delhi. Human remains of Varanasi are gross but at least they are “organic”, Kanpur dumps industrial waste instead and it’s far far worse for the river.
One major industry in Kanpur is leather processing – that’s how Indians kill their mothers for the second time – by using remains of the first killed mother (cow) to kill mother Ganga. Leather processing must have always been there but traditionally they took skins off naturally dead cows and they certainly didn’t treat skins with industrially produced chemicals. The documentary took us inside one of these “plants”, though it’s too big of a word for what we’ve seen there. It’s downright disgusting, a real pigsty with skins soaking in some blue stuff right on the ground in what looked like makeshift shackle rather than a “factory”. There was no visible automation there either, no machinery, no clean areas, no signs of any safety policies, nothing. There were some huge drums of indescribable material, probably wood, that contained skins, I guess, they looked like like giant washing machines. The presenter rattled some of the names of the chemicals they used but I didn’t catch much apart from chrome which made everything look blue. All of it is eventually dumped into the river.
Amazingly, that “factory” was described as one of the best ones by no one else but an “environmental officer” who led the presenter there. These people just need to tick items off their list to demand more money from central government, the actual state of things is of no real concern for them. I think they operate on a principle of “better than could have been” and “there’s nothing I can do”, while politicians announce grandiose plans and promise to spend billions of dollars.
In this case people do not worship the river at all, they just abuse it, knowing that Ganga’s mercy is unlimited. They use the river strictly for their personal enjoyment – the mother will forgive everything, right? A sad thing is that they can’t have a proper sense enjoyment in the conditions they set for themselves. Working in one of those factories is like working in hell, and the stench of the chemicals is overwhelming.
Finally, we’ve been taken to Gangasagar, the place where the river finally meets the ocean. It’s a holy place, too, and there people come to say good-bye and possibly beg forgiveness for everything they had done to it before. I don’t know if Ganga is relieved that her job of purifying the Earth is over or not. I don’t know how she is affected by all these goings on – worship, pollution, corpses, and outright abuse. That would be an interesting subject to speculate upon, maybe some other day.