Yamuna Satyagraha soldiers won’t say die
Motorists on National Highway-24 connecting Delhi with Ghaziabad often marvel at the frenetic construction work underway at the Commonwealth Games Village facing the Akshardham Temple on the eastern bank of Yamuna.
But few have noticed one of the longest-running environmental campaigns in Delhi, at a corner next to a smelling storm-water drain right outside the Village.
Known only to a few, the Yamuna Satyagraha, as the campaign is called, completed 200 weather-beaten days on Sunday.
Around a tent at the protest site, hang a few handwritten posters from a tree close to which are two cots around which pink pamphlets are strewn. Close by, sits a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi.
The campaign was launched to “save the oldest and most vital water resource of Delhi”, which environmentalists feel face grave threat to its survival from the construction work on the river's bed.
On Sunday, well-wishers came over to commemorate the day. But on any given day, there are only a few protestors at the site, led by Magsaysay Award winner Rajendra Singh holding together the fight for something so intrinsic to Delhi's sustenance.
These “water warriors”, as they call themselves, have been living out of the tent, playing host to mosquitoes at night and silently watching Delhi zoom by on the busy highway.
“We are keeping alive people’s right to a free river. It does not matter how many people take note,” said 26-year-old Sunil Prabhakar, who has been at the site since August.
“Often people fail to realise what the city loses if its river ceases to exist,” said he, who hails from Punjab, the land of five rivers.
Then there is Atravati Devi, representing those who have been farming on the Yamuna riverbed for decades. So far this woman from Mandavali village has composed over a hundred songs on the river. Except for fellow farmers and others at the protest site, no one in Delhi has ever heard her songs that thank the river for providing water security to generations of Delhiites.
“Extreme heat in summer and bone-chilling cold in winter have failed to deter us because we are used to being on the riverbed day and night,” said “Masterji” Daljit Singh, head of the farming community.
Everyday, this man arrives at the site in the morning and remains there till late night.
Why does a majority of Delhi ignore a protest for something so vital to the city?
“We have programmed ourselves in a way that until any natural calamity is on our heads, we refuse to cause ripples in our comfortable city lives,” said conservationist Manoj Misra about the city's supposed apathy in joining in the protest.
“This is symptomatic of a city that has gotten so comfortable receiving water through taps they do not care where the water comes from,” he said.
Now, to “awaken the elite and the educated” who have been giving the protest a royal snub, the group is now organising a panel discussion this month where eminent social scientists, environmentalists and bureaucrats will debate the ills of concretisation of a riverbed.