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Monday, April 06, 2020

Out of my mind: Pity the rivers

The citizens’ faith in the judiciary is matched by the confidence the judges have in their own power.

Written by Meghnad Desai | Published: March 26, 2017 1:45:52 am
corbett, corbett national park, corbett uttarakhand, uttarakhand high court, construction ban near corbett, corbett animals, corbett flora and fauna, indian express news Uttarakhand High Court.(File Photo)

The Uttarakhand High Court has declared the rivers Ganga and Yamuna to have a human persona. The Honourable Court hopes thereby that the rivers will be better treated, not polluted, and kept clean. I very much doubt it. The Ganga and Yamuna are deep parts of India’s heritage. Many people treat them not as human beings but as divine. They bathe in them, wash their clothes, float dead bodies, cremate their loved ones on the banks and consign their ashes to the waters of these rivers. No doubt industrial and household waste is also lovingly dumped into their waters. If we treat them so badly when they are divine, what hope is there that we will do any better calling them human?

But there is also a larger issue. The Honourable Court no doubt relies on the copious list of rights that humans have as citizens of India. But can anyone hold their hand on heart and say that these rights are enjoyed by the overwhelming majority of the citizens?

Forget the utopian ideals of right to live or to a sustainable livelihood. Even a basic right such as security of life and limbs is difficult for women to enjoy from the pre-birth life in a womb till old age and widowhood. There are dowries and domestic violence, insecurity of going about in large cities for young women, who face the danger of rape. Men may do better but not by much, unless they are in the top echelons of income and caste. Most people have a precarious living whatever the per capita income and the growth rate.

There is an excessive faith among Indians in the power of the judiciary and the efficiency of litigation. Yet many of the things people go to court for are curable if they behave better themselves. If our attitude to rivers was really one of respect and not veneration, we may protect them at least from our own pollution. If we were careful of public property, we would not dump household waste wherever and whenever. No law can make us avoid public defecation, spitting, throwing plastic mugs and cardboard cartons on the street. Yes the laws are there but who takes the blindest notice. It is a question of our own public morality, not of legal obligation.

Of course there are laws against polluting these rivers. There have been schemes to clean them up. Remember Rajiv Gandhi’s pledge to clean up the Ganga, and now of course we have the Prime Minister’s promise and Uma Bharti in charge. Yet somehow one cannot expect that the Ganga will ever be clean. I bet there is more likelihood of an ISRO moon landing or a Ram Mandir than of a clean Ganga.

The citizens’ faith in the judiciary is matched by the confidence the judges have in their own power. Not only do they interpret the Constitution but even instruct us to be patriotic by getting up for the national anthem in cinema halls.

The most revealing contrast is, however, with the reform of cricket. There was no general injunction that cricketers be treated as human beings. There was a detailed insistence on restructuring the BCCI. If only rivers were loved as much as cricket, we could have them clean in no time.

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