Swati Chandra | March 3, 2015 | Varanasi
# The place where former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi launched the Ganga Action Plan (GAP) at Rajendra Prasad ghat in Varanasi in 1986 had turned into a pungent smelling embankment by river side in Varanasi, frequently used for urination, open defecation and throwing garbage. Irony !
# The shelter below this embankment had become home for thugs and drug addicts who would sit under the shelter of the embankment and stare at the activities on the ghats – The stare that scares women, tourists and even locals.
# The slippery area by the river side had become the dumping ground for the solid waste that accumulate on the ghat. It was just impossible to pass through this area, which is adjacent to Dashaswamedh ghat (most thronged for bathing and religious activities).
In December 2014, it looked like this
In February 2015, I visited my home town again. Some of my friends who joined me were keen on exploring the ghats and the serpentine lanes leading from the Ganga to the city. I was keen too but only until I reached this place. As I was apprehensive and feeling sad for what they might think looking at condition of this place. We were about to take a boat and to my surprise, this place looked totally different.
When enquired the locals and the boatmen who dwell on the ghats throughout the day, we realised what the prime minister could not do in all these months, a little endeavour by few art lovers in the town changed the fate of this place.
Students of fine arts, painters and artists from Varanasi cleaned this place and transformed it into a green belt by the river side. They have cleaned the stairs, converted the junk, which was wasting away on the neglected stairs, into dust bins, boat replica and garden pots and planters. Plastic bottles, poly bags, floral wastes were not found floating on the surface water this time. “Open defecation and urination in this area has also been banned not by force, but merely by creating awareness and shaming the wrongdoer with the tool called ‘art’,” shared Amit, a graduate in fine arts, who is also the part of this unpopular group.
A number of ghats in Varanasi (having historical and archaeological importance) are dying because of public apathy. Efforts are being taken to clean up the mess and restore the pristine glory of the river fronts but only for photo opportunities and other reasons.
As a native of this town, I have seen social activist, NGOs, school kids and even politicians forming human chains, shouting slogans, participating in signature campaigns and lighting candles to clean up the ‘mess’ called Ganga, the river that is nurturing some 450 million people.
Such activism never raised any hope, even when prime minister Modi picked up spade and cleaned Assi ghat in November 2014.
But the effort by these art lovers is surely the light at the end of the tunnel.
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