Whatever I wrote about Mother Gaṅgā yesterday is also applicable to Yamunā, the situation there is only slightly different. Yamunā isn’t such a big river to attract attention of the BBC but it’s arguably more important to us because of her relationship with Kṛṣṇa and Vḍndāvana.
Last year there was a huge pādayātrā from Vṛndāvana to Delhi to attract government’s attention to the problem of Yamuna and in the end they managed to extract some government promises. Maybe something will come out of it, maybe not. Interestingly, this pādayātrā was organized by the “infamous” Ramesh Baba so disliked by some of our devotees. As far as I am aware, ISKCON devotees took part in it anyway.
Yamunā’s main and only problem is Delhi (if we think of Yamunā in terms of a physical river, not the personality). Of course there are other polluters along its 1300km length as well but Delhi alone accounts for more than half of all pollution dumped into the river. There are plenty of numbers from Indian government on this matter and I might be wrong here but the point is that Delhi’s contribution is colossal and it’s unique in other ways, too.
Much of Yamunā’s water is taken away before the river reaches Delhi. Some is taken for irrigation just as the river enters Haryana some 100+km before Delhi, and the rest is taken for Delhi’s drinking water on the northern outskirts of the city. At that point waters of Yamuna are literally replaced with Delhi’s sewage as there are no other sources there, only rainwater. Much of the year the weather is dry and hot, however, meaning there’s nothing left in Yamunā but sewage.
Delhi’s population is some 17 million people and about a third of them are illegal, meaning they are not connected to city’s sewage system at all and all their waste goes untreated. Plus there’s industrial pollution, of course, which is probably the main culprit because those chemicals can’t be naturally dissolved, which makes the water carcinogenic and outright poisonous.
Internet is full of pictures of strange foam covering the surface of the river, sometimes it looks like huge chunks of ice and snow, sometimes it’s pink. I’ll stick one here to illustrate the point:
This is what industrial waste looks like, and it looks worse than foam created by washing powder, it’s more solid and permanent, and no one in his right mind would consider using such water for human consumption, but that’s what residents downstream from Delhi, including Vṛndāvana, are forced to do anyway.
Human waste is less visible but consider this fact. Standard number of fecal bacteria allowed in 100ml of water for bathing (not drinking) is 500. In Yamuna, as it exits Delhi, this number is 1,100,000,000. That’s 1.1 billion. It’s literally liquid shit, there’s no other way to describe it.
From scientific POV this means the water is dead – nothing lives there, no fish, nothing. Ganges, by comparison, fares much better and there’s not only fish but majestic Ganges River Dolphin, one of the three species of true freshwater dolphins still left in the world. They can grow over two meters in length and there could be two thousand of them left.
Ganges water is also described as brown, due to the slit it raises from the riverbed, but Yamunā’s water supposed to be crystal blue. Not anymore, of course, Delhi makes is black and stinky.
If we look at it from human perspective the picture isn’t much better. I mean that people living in Delhi use their taps and toilets just as everyone else, they do not see themselves as polluters, they simply use water for their daily needs. What makes them into polluters is the government that is supposed to treat their sewage but fails to do so. You can’t ask people not to use water for cooking and bathing and you can’t ask people not to use toilets. It doesn’t mean they are off the hook, however.
Both in the video I talked about yesterday and in any article on Yamunā’s pollution one can see tons of garbage strewing riverbanks. That garbage wasn’t dumped there by the government but by people themselves. Just do a google image search for “Yamuna garbage” and you won’t be disappointed. Actually, you will be, but I mean the search won’t come back empty.
I guess we can trace the garbage problem to the same five million or so illegal residents there. They do not have garbage trucks regularly picking up their trash bins, whatever they dump just stays there. Even if they wanted to dispose of their trash they have no way of doing so.
In ancient times it wouldn’t be a big problem because all trash was organic matter – mostly leftovers from cooking. It naturally degrades in a few days and it can serve as a fertilizer, too. These days, however, most of the trash is plastic bags, plastic wraps, plastic battles etc etc. The only plus side to so much plastic in the trash is that it make garbage dumps look colorful.
Another point is that environmentalist, especially western ones, blame these illegals for contaminating water with their feces. This is undeserved, however. Unconnected to sewage systems these people do not have toilets and defecate in a natural manner, in the open spaces where their feces are dried by the sun and should never ever reach water sources. The idea of defecating into water is a signature invention of Kali yuga. We all do it now but in better times it sounded outrageous and unthinkable. We rely on sewage treatment and it mostly works, especially in the West, but in India it just can’t cope with the amount of human waste and so shit freely flows into the river. They can’t catch it all and they can’t treat it all no matter what they try.
Western activists urge Indians to abandon their millennia old habits and switch to defecating into water. They cite statistics of children dying of dysentery or women dying of dysentery, whoever gets on their radar that day. I don’t know how to answer that – people do die because of the unclean way they defecate but, on one hand, it could be nature’s way of controlling human population, on the other hand they might not be defecating right. We are talking about real lowlifes here, not Vedic brāhmaṇas. Perhaps educating these people in proper Vedic ways would save their lives better than expecting the government to provide toilet and sewage treatment facilities for all, which it clearly can’t do.
Makes you wonder if India can be safely assumed as a better place for spiritual practice. I think one should clearly stay away from many areas there, like Delhi or any other place affected by industrialization. Not much would be left, however. Even Vṛndāvana doesn’t look anything like it was in Prabhupāda’s time and it didn’t change for the better. It’s not only industry itself that is the problem, but changing people’s attitudes. I mean, what kind of attitude would you expect from people who set up golf courses outside Govardhana? What attitude you expect from people who go play golf there? What to expect from people who work there? What to expect from people who make their living off these visitors? What about that skyscraper temple planned in Vṛndāvana? It is rather hopeless.
Nothing can ever pollute the holy name, though, we can always seek refuge in the name, and it’s not different from Vṛndāvana either.