India's obsession with purity muddying the water crisis
12 May 2018 2:00 PM GMT
India's political and social consciousness suffers from deniability of a pending water crisis, specially since it is integrally linked to our religious fabric. This is the first of a 3-part series on water crisis in India.
Even as Cape Town has managed to push back it's Day Zero date, India continues to suffer year after year of it, without taking concrete measures. The Indian state of politics and social consciousness has developed a in a bizarre sense of deniability, aided by the fact that water management issues are raised only by a select few, lacking a mass appeal. Unless it is based on votes and political agendas, as in South India, there seems to be little action taking place otherwise. This may stem from a subliminal association of water in India with religious and social constructs, and nobody wants to ruffle these feathers, even at the risk of running dry. We would rather marry frogs in an elaborate ceremony to pray for rains rather than build a water harvesting model.
Traditions call the shots
Water plays an important role in Indian culture and traditions, specially in our religious belief. The concept of purity is essentially steeped in holy water – whether it is used to sprinkle or take a dip. From summoning our ancestors to cleansing our homes, water is a commodity that has high usage as well as wastage. This is because water is associated with cleanliness, or in other words to cleanse and purify a place or a person. Our collective consciousness can't fathom a day when taps will run dry because we simply refuse to acknowledge the issue. In most households of India, anybody who enters a home has to first wash his hands and feet before getting involved in household chores. Previously, when sanitation inside homes was considered impure, men and women would wash outside before entering the threshold.
Usha Paana Chikitsa or Jala Kunjal are examples of water therapy which has been practised in India as an age-old tradition since ancient times when drinking water was upheld as internal cleansing as well as of medicinal value.
But most importantly, it is the association of Hindu religious contexts with water which ascribes it a high purity factor. Both the Ganges and Indus rivers have been eulogised and epitomised as religious foundations, with allegories of gods and goddess attached to them. The Hindu is also derived from the Persian word Hind, which refers to the Sindhu –Sanskrit for the Indus river. A popular reference is the flood during King Manu's reign of which he was warned by the Matsya (fish) avatar of Lord Vishnu. Today, from birth to death, Hindu customs are steeped in water ceremonies and every major temple also has a water reservoir. And these are only a few examples; Hindu texts and mythologies are inundated with water references.
Lack of social consciousness
Even for the water-conscious present generation, it is still a matter of habit that is setting us back. For example, the tap is mostly on when we brush our teeth, or water is freely used during washing, not consciously saved for later use. Water management is still quite an alien concept although it is a serious aspect that will affect everyone soon. As major cities are beginning to suffer crippling water crisis, it is now a matter of urgency to resort to smarter habits and better management.
During an age when religious tensions are high, one often gets away with bizarre reactions, like conducting faux-marriage between frogs for good rainfall, rather than taking up more effective measure. Specially in villages and rural areas where people are still fixated with religious solutions to real problems, it will take concerted and planned intervention to make them understand the dire situation and better ways to stave-off the crisis. The government's ad-hoc solutions of sending water-tankers or trains to drought-hit areas are not a long-term sustainable solution, specially since the since the situation will get worse over the years if better methods of management is not followed.
But often, it is the educated citizens who continue to succumb to the 'purity' concept of water. A recent Business Line article reported that the Arvind Mills factory at Santej in drought-hit Gujarat prompted the company to set-up a socially-conscious business model. Today, almost 95 percent of their water intake is recycled, re-circulated and re-used. Their innovation has led to waste-water being made potable, a model that Singapore pioneered. However, the article goes on to say that some staffers refuse to drink it. One may argue that today, the water in Ganges is no longer safe to drink or even bathe in because of its high-levels of pollution. However, the mindset of 'purity' has little to do with logical reasoning and so long as we can't break this routine, we will continue to ignore the crisis and water management will be a lost cause.
Until the day the taps run dry.