Changing Kasi: Erosion or Metamorphosis?

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The train passes Gangaji on a very old bridge, and from below can be seen the ghatscape of Kasi. The bridge was constructed by the British for connecting the parts of India lying across the river. The snap was taken from towards Adi Keshav Ghat, the last ghat of Varanasi, around 500 metres from the confluence of Varuna and Gangaji. Upto around 100 metres from the point where Varuna meets Gangaji and brings concentrated refuse and waste material with it Gangaji is totally black for about 10 metres from its beach. The point of confluence can be seen in the image below.

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Such is the state of one of the defining points of Varanasi, popularly described as the area lying between the confluences of Gangaji with Varuna and Assi. Assi, a rivulet once, has become a nullah today that poisons the water of Gangaji with the wastes of a very densely populated area of Banaras. Moreover, there are several points on many ghats at which waste material flows into the river untreated, and in huge volumes. Shivala Ghat is one such point. Just after it comes Chet Singh Ghat. The image below is of the area starting from the end of Chet Singh Ghat up to Panchganga Ghat.

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The stone steps close to the stone wall and the dry alluvium just where the stairs start are littered with human excreta in various stages of dryness and decomposition. Incidentally, the whole area around point from which the snap of the train was taken is also used for mass excretion by a large section of the population living around the river.

Pollution of the sacred and purifying Gangaji is just one of the effects of blind modernization and unplanned  urbanization on Kasi. Such kind of changes can be proven detrimental very easily. There are people and organizations working to keep their mother-river clean. They are right in feeling for their mother and trying to save her. Then there are people trying to save Gangaji (and other rivers) from the messiahs who show the masses the dreams of the promised land if the dam they want is built. I am with them. But there are issues hitherto unraised, probably unrecognized, even, that need to be addressed. Questions need to be asked. How much and what kind of change is good for Kasi? Where should the process stop? Who decides the final identity of the city being changed: eroded or metamorphosed?

I can raise my voice but I need other voices to come with mine. Voices against the planned murder of my river, against the conversion of beautiful and old specimens of architecture into malls, against the conversion of ghats, some of whom once used to be places for meditation into some sort of spectacle, against Kashi Vishwanath and Birla Temples and the area around them being fortified and made tense, being converted into some kind of battlefield to be. There’s a need for like minded people to raise their voice against the erosion of the very idea of Banaras.

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