OzGREEN programs connect youth with communities to become leaders of innovative sustainable social change

Day 6- Varanasi

8am sharp we were out on the boat, keen to get water testing; our group included a university student and a year 11 year student, both whom have been attending our Youth Leading the World Facilitator Training this week. 

There are 33 drains, all which flow directly into the Ganga. On this day, we took samples from 6 areas. 

It was the Varuna River where I first felt physically ill. We had passed the city Ghats, gone under the bridge and arrived in the village area. Looking out to the river, away from the city, the water was an eery white-grey; methane bubbling all around the boat. 

In order to correctly collect data from the samples, when water is taken from the river (50 cm's down- as this is the level at which people bath), two chemicals are mixed with the sample to fix the oxygen levels in the water. Usually, the water will turn a orange/brown colour. However, the water at Varuna turned a blanket white. No lab work was needed, this water had a dissolved oxygen level of 0. Solid sewage.

Back past the city Ghats we went, back past our home at Tulsi Ghat and on towards the upstream drains. Nagwa Nalla, meaning drain in English, was originally called Assi River. Anyone who has laid eyes on this once called 'river' will understand the reasoning behind the change of name. This was no river- it was the largest drain I had ever seen, flowing directly into the upstream of the Ganga.

And then I heard a disturbing thing. The law student who had accompanied us, the student who had, a day before, listening intently at our Facilitator Training as we delivered the hard facts, the science and statistics of the pollution of the river, said that he had no idea this was happening. Unable to believe that this system of sewage management was a reality, I saw the horror on his face. 

If Lalit could be so oblivious about the state of the water- a committed/passionate/active law student- how many more people are there? 

Later on at the banks of the river on Tulsi Ghat, the high school student joining us began to sing "Ganga will be clean", encouraging others to join. A nearby man took notice and said "but Modi Ji has already cleaned the Ganga".

The fact that sewage makes up 95% of the pollution in the river is not in the face of every day people. Unfortunately what is in their face is rubbish, rubbish on the Ghats. And so, to those millions of people who don't understand the science behind the pollution of the river, they turn to blame the physical rubbish and dirt on the Ghat, the soap of those who bath, the stray dogs' filth. Which in reality only make up 5% of this detrimental issue.  

Prime Minister Modi Ji's campaign was built, in Varanasi, on the good-willed platform of cleaning Ganga. As an initiative of this he came to Assi Ghat and shovelled dirt away from the Ghat- a symbolic gesture of the governments good intention for the future. 

So far however, no substantial effective change has occurred. What has emerged among people is a dangerous and confused misconception that the cosmetic cleaning of the Ghats is cleaning the Ganga.

How can we encourage the government to act on their promises when even the most educated of people do not understand that when you flush your toilet, it goes directly into Ganga Ji?