Hindus yearn to visit the holy Ganges River, to bathe in its sacred waters
known to cleanse or wash away all sins, and many Hindus hope to die in Varanasi
in order to escape from the cycle of rebirth. Approximately 80,000 people bathe
daily on the ancient ghats of Varanasi.
The source of the Ganges is in an ice cave high in the Himalayas, and it
makes its way through the most densely populated area of the world until it
merges into the Bay of Bengal. It is precisely along this journey that the river
has accumulated raw sewage, human ash, animal carcasses and industrial waste.
In 1985, the Ganges Action Plan was launched to
start the cleanup by installing sewage plants in major cities along the river.
However, the plan failed as it used too
much of India's valuable energy resources and the plants in many cities are now
Since 1985, a recent study indicates that the amount of sewage flowing into
the Ganges has doubled. Amrit Dhillan, reporter for Nationwide News, says, "The
sacred Ganges has become so filthy that even Hindu holy men refuse to bathe in
From fasting, to attract government attention, to lodging a public petition
in the courts, these holy men are protesting the condition of the river.
"Tests last year of Varanasi water samples showed that the fecal coliform
count (a measure of human and animal waste in water) was 50 times the level
considered acceptable for human beings," said M.C. Mehta, a Varanasi lawyer and
He added, "No scheme will work unless it involves public participation.
You have to educate the people to treat the river
Presently, locals wash laundry in the river and dump rubbish, bodies, plastic
bags and rotting garlands. Mishra Mehta's group called the Friends of Ganges
have been trying to force the Indian government to approve a new project called
Mishra herself says, "I want to do my holy dip and yet I know the river is
filthy. So I compromise by not going all the way in."