About My Project...

As a kid every time I would cross a river in India, be it the Ganga or the Yamuna or any of their tributaries, I would have a feeling that the water levels of these rivers were receding... my heart would sink seeing the industrial pollutants making their way into these rivers...

On the contrary the feeling I would get seeing these rivers close to their origins… especially the Ganga in Rishikesh is indescribable… no pollution, no signs of water level depletion … so calm and so serene… the scent of freshness in the air…

I am documenting the life around river Ganga… the life as Ganga sees and feels it... the culture the river has supported for thousands of years, the people it has sustained over the centuries, and also the human interference it has suffered over the last one century or so...

Towards that I am following the river from its origins high up in the Himalayas all the way to where it merges with the Indian Ocean. All the while I am meeting with people who have been close to the river to narrate their feelings about the river, what they feel about the part Ganga has played in the Indian civilization and culture, what we human beings have done or could do or have not done to save this mighty river…

My final aim is to narrate the whole documentary as a multimedia and a book. I invite anyone and everyone to please help me with suggestions... critique... and hospitality. I would love to hear your suggestions and incorporate them into my project.

Note: The contents of this blog including the pictures are copyrighted and may not be copied or downloaded without prior permission of Rahul Rathi.
Disclaimer: This is a personal project of Rahul Rathi. He is not responsible for the accuracy of the contents here in and may not be sited as a reference without confirming the accuracy.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Kahalgaon: Plight of the fishing community there!

Kahalgaon: Although I started my Bihar journey from Bhagalpur, but I am narrating my visit to Kahalgaon first and foremost. That is because it was in Kahalgaon I realized that this project of mine is much more than just a photographic journey. The plight of the fishing community in this town was heart-breaking
India used to have "zameendars" during the British occupation. [Zameen = Land; Dar = Owner/Lord]. In the state of Bihar the waters of river Ganga were also "owned" by "zameendars" and this system was termed "paanidari" [Paani = Water; Dar = Owner/Lord].

Although "zameendari" system was abolished by the Indian government in 1954, the "paanidari" system was not. It thrived for a long time, with "paanidars" holding onto waters of river Ganga and making the fishermen fish in those waters. But the catch however belonged to the "paanidars" and the fishermen were left with almost nothing. Plus they were taxed on top of that. [According to Tarun Kanti Bose, the Ganga was divided into two stretches between Sultanganj and Kahalgaon, each stretch belonging to one "zameendar", thus there were only two such "paanidars"].    

In 1982 the fishing community from the Kahalgaon area started a movement to get the "paanidari" system abolished. It was the Ganga Mukti Andolan [Save the Ganga Movement]. 

I am addressing the fishing community at the Ganga Mukti Andolan head-office in the town of Kahalgaon. After listening to their plight it was hard to concentrate on my photo expedition. I promised them I would try my best to get their situation known to the world. Photo: Subhasis Dey
The fishing community won their battle against the "paanidari" system in 1990, only to lose it again in 1991. This time to the government. The waters of river Ganga from Sultangnaj all the way up to Kahalgaon and beyond (areas bordering the state of West Bengal) were declared a sanctuary. As a result fishing was prohibited!

--to be continued--

Monday, January 14, 2013

Bihar - How I started

I went back to India in October of 2012 to move forward with my project. In my last trip I covered most of the Eastern UP. That part of UP was a little bit of an unfamiliar territory for me (but it still was the state where I grew up) and compared to that Bihar was a complete foreign land for me especially growing up and reading only negativity about the state in media. Still I was a little at ease as the language in Bihar is also Hindi.

I started my Bihar trip by jotting out places where I would be visiting, and other than Patna I hardly knew anything about the state. One of my good friends Atul Kumar Singh suggested Bhagalpur to me because of the Gangetic Dolphins. Upon googling the Gangetic Dolphins I came across the Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary wikipedia site from where I came to know about Dr Sunil Chaudhary.

While still in the US I wrote an email to Dr Chaudhary and in less than 24 hours I heard back from him promising me all the help he and his team could provide me towards my project. That was a big relief for me for this would be my first time traveling all alone with all that expensive equipment. We exchanged several emails between my flying to India to taking the train to Bhagalpur and by the time of my final email Dr Chaudhary had planned my whole trip to the area.

The other place I decided to go was Munger, mainly because of the Bihar School of Yoga and then its notoriety for illegal manufacturing of guns. While at Meerut in India I was trying to find out a place to stay at Munger and came across Munger District's facebook page! My first impression was that it was started my some local person. Nevertheless, I wrote a message through the facebook page. To my utter surprise I got a reply back in less than 30 minutes. And again by the time our conversation was over in about an hour with messages going to and fro I had a place to stay in Munger too. My host would be Mr Rajesh, Deputy Collector - Banking, and I would be staying at the circuit house (guest house for government officials). Later I came to know that the person I was exchanging messages with was the District Magistrate of Munger District.

Then of course was Patna. Thanks to several of my friends Neeraj Sharma bhaiya, Kumar Rahul, Praveen Bahl and Neeraj Nath who helped me out. I could not decide where to stay till the day I was in Patna (I eventually stayed at SBI guest house arranged by Neeraj Nath, not far from the Ganga river and the railway station).

So this was how my journey to Bihar began, planning at the very last moment but everything getting materialized!