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The Yamuna Is Polluted 13 Times More Than The Permissible Limit. Here’s How We Can Save It

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By Sachin Babu:

As the ray of light passes through the mist of an unsettled storm,
emerges a bow of a monotonous spectrum, with despair at both its ends.                                                     

Picture Credit: Tanvi Singh

Exactly two months ago, I flung the doors of the Innova open as my colossal green knapsack tumbled down to the ground at the finish line. The features of our faces echoing the images of the past eleven days, our hands and legs bruised and scarred by a multitude of emotions and boundless memories leaving the mouth fluttering with a tremulous smile from acquired wisdom and sensations only to be disturbed by the inevitability of the situation.

On the fourth of April, our batch set out to trace the Yamuna from its birth and exuberant childhood days all the way to the last stage of its life, slow and monotonous. Unaware and ignorant of the suffering entity, we left our homes excited, with our knapsacks filled with ‘essentials’. 

As the city lights fade into the sky, and as the urban life is internalised,
the guiltless river is forgotten, just as oblivious of the blood flow through our veins.

Completely ignoring the ink-black waters of Delhi, we went forward to Janki Chatti, where gleaming silver and turquoise water finally caught our attention and drove every little conversation around itself. Every single person greeted us with a big warm smile, claiming to be the happiest person, and invited us over for chai.

Through our casual conversations with them, we noticed how they were possessive about the river and referred to it as ‘mata’. Other than small activities like brushing, men and women obtaining cartons of water for various purposes, people merely quenching their thirst and jubilant kids splashing water, we could not find a single source intoxicating the river. With the contagious jubilance of the kids, we soon found ourselves splashing water at each other. As the drops of water fell on my glasses, blinding me, my mind reminisced about the childhood I never had by the river, all reaching the same conclusion that we, city kids have been missing out on life. 

The child comforts her crying mother,
With nothing more than just a smile and a touch.
The moon bears witness,
And the sequin stars in her eyes,
Did allow their souls to be one.

Be it Lakhamandal, Yamunotri, Kharsali or even Ganganani, the lives of the people and the river coalesced to form a larger euphoric entity. It was then time to enter back into ‘civilisation’. Paonta Sahib is one of the first major sites along the river, a religious site and an industrial town, which scars the river. Though all the industries at Paonta depend on the river and pollute it, we see that the river endures it and handles it. However, it is when it enters Yamuna Nagar, Haryana, that it is brutally stabbed. Unknown debris float alongside white foam, unhurried, almost like they’re waving us a sweet goodbye. When you witness two contrasting images, it can have a really deep impact on you. The same river, in which all of us took a dip, eight hours ago, lay lifeless and cold in front of our eyes. At this moment, to anyone, we were a bunch of students, with our eyes transfixed on the river and our bodies swaying rhythmically to the sound of our thoughts, mourning its death. 

She watched as the sun set to illumine the wood,
The smoke filled the air, causing tears to flow,
from the eyes that took on a glisten from the orbs
now flicker to the dance of the fire.

As it enters Vrindavan, a holy town, the unholy waters are choked with symbols of purity. Where worshipping the goddess through rituals can be equated to killing her. Where people throw religious remains (including ashes of the human body) and witness the infamous Yamuna Aarthi. The sight was somewhat like this, a bunch of hypnotised religious people transfixed at the gyrations of the Aarthi, swaying to the deafening noises of the pooja hoping to be cleansed by the end of it. Not to be unreligious, but even a religious man cannot possibly miss the irony of religion that Vrindavan showcases. At Agra, the black river juxtaposed with the white Taj, and indeed created art, the sole reason that attracts tourist from all around the world (*please note the sarcasm). 

When we finally reached Delhi, only to be greeted by the ink-black and gooey sludge, it wasn’t a very happy ending. According to a report by Central Pollution Control Board, Yamuna is polluted 13 times more than the permissible levels. About 85 % of the total pollution of the river is contributed by domestic sources. 70% of the total pollution of the river can be solely blamed on Delhi. The stretch in Delhi is dumped with wastes from 18 drains and 1,500 unplanned neighbourhoods and partially filtered wastes from incapable Sewage Treatment Plants. With all this in place, 57 million people depend on the Yamuna and 70% of New Delhi’s water supply comes from the river. Over ₹3,000 crores have been spent across 3 phases of Yamuna Action Plan since 1993 but the quality of the river has only worsened. 

We can, however, take following immediate steps to control the worsening situation:

1. Idol immersion during festivals and any kind of religious waste should be avoided

2. Industries should find alternate ways to recycle their effluents and need to stop dumping in the Yamuna.

3. Strict monitoring and active actions should be taken by the government.

4. Highly polluted parts should be cordoned off from public access until it’s treated.

5. Active campaigns, major awareness sessions and increasing pressure on the governments should be taken on especially by students and NGOs.

6. There should be a minimal influence of politics and commercial sector in future actions plans.

7. Yamuna Action Plan funds should be made public.

More than all of this, only a behavioural change can actually truly make things better in the long run.

Sachin is spending his school vacations as a summer intern at Chintan 

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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