The Saviours of Sarsaiyya Ghat
Kanpur is the industrial hub of the state of Uttar Pradesh (also popularly known by the sobriquets, ‘Manchester of India’ or ‘Leather City of the World’) is famous for its Kanpuriya Holi and Ganga Mela. The Ganga Mela is celebrated at the city’s well known Sarsaiyya Ghat annually during Holi. This tradition is connected to the freedom struggle in memory of revolutionaries who were released by the erstwhile British government from captivity during the revolt of 1857. On this anniversary, people play with colour and then take a dip in the Ganges.
Besides its cultural, historic and architectural heritage, the Ghat has always been in the news for another reason: its filthy premises with heaps of garbage. However, the Ghat has been undergoing positive transformation with collective efforts by district authorities and civil society organizations towards sensitisation and mobilisation of communities after the launch of Namami Gange under Swachh Bharat Mission.
The committed and coordinated efforts of all stakeholders in keeping their surroundings clean have shown remarkable results. On my recent visit, I noticed that the premises and stairs at the Ghats are visibly clean, trash is right where it ought to be- in bins placed along the stairs. I felt that there is also reduced foul odour along the embankments.
The Boat Men at Sarsaiyya Ghat, Kanpur, with the pledge they have signed as testimony towards keeping the banks clean. WaterAid/ Farrukh Khan
“All the boat men have signed a pledge in the presence of District Magistrate saheb to make our surroundings open defecation free and our Ghats clean,” said Jugnu Nishad. Nishad belongs to the ‘Mallah’ community, members of which have traditionally made a living by ferrying people across the river. His fellow boatmen joined him in affirmation and showed a copy of the pledge as testimony to their commitment.
The children of the community around Sarsaiyya Ghat are ever alert, helping keep the banks defecation free. WaterAid/ Farrukh Khan
A group of chirpy kids from the same community as Nihad keep a strict watch on their peers, neighbours and visitors, and never hesitate to blow their whistles if they find someone defecating or peeing in the area. In their pre and early teens, the children proudly talked of how their homes now have own toilets and that they use them instead of going out.
Shop owners like Savita and her friends who sell prayer items like flowers, incense sticks and other essentials for a living have stopped providing polythene bags to customers. “We know that these plastic bags are the main cause of the choked drains,” said Savita. Her friend Nanki informed that initially customers were annoyed and threatened to buy from other vendors. “However, they stopped complaining when they realised that all of us have stopped providing polythene bags to ensure that our Ghats remain clean,” she added.
“We do realise our duties and responsibilities towards our life line, the river Ganga and are committed towards keeping the Ghats clean. We remind our Yajmans (pilgrims and devotees who come to perform prayers) to discard waste only in trash cans and not bring polythene carry bags,” said Pandit Shiv Shankar Mishra, the head of the Sarsaiyya Ghat Priest Association.
Pandit Mishra pointed in the direction of the district jail housing 2000 inmates, “However, the government must also take steps to check the volume of waste flowing through huge drains directly into the Ganga.”
Pandit Mishra, a priest on the banks of Sarsaiyya Ghat speaks of how he takes efforts to urge pilgrims to not litter or use plastic. WaterAid/ Farrukh Khan
WaterAid India through its local partner Shramik Bharti has been supporting community and district administration efforts towards realising water, sanitation and hygiene goals, which have received a consistently positive response from the entire community, be it men, women, or children.
As the twilight sky over the river turned crimson, I retreated from the enigmatic Ghat with fond memories of the generous people and laughing children, hoping to return to a cleaner Sarsaiyya Ghat and enjoy a Kanpuria Holi in the summer of 2017.
Farrukh Rahman Khan is Regional Manager - North at WaterAid India. He Tweets as @farrukhRK