The curse of Jammu

Squadron Leader Anil Sehgal
Memories don’t die. They may fade with the passage of time, though. So, let me take you to my beloved Jammu of the good old days…
Our paternal grandmother was a devout lady who followed certain religious rituals, which included silent prayers, counting the beads of her rosary, singing bhajans, and chanting holy mantras each day.
She would get up early, much before the sunrise, and, after morning ablutions, she would take her bath with fresh tap water, irrespective of the temperature of the day. A daily bath with fresh tap water was an integral part of her religious regime.

Jammu Jottings

My father, uncles and other elders in the family would repeatedly request her not to bathe with cold water in the winters. All their pleadings to make her bathe with warm water produced no results, and she continued with her ritual unabated, to the last day of her life on mother earth.
Before eating anything in the morning, she will go to the temple to offer prayers, carrying fresh flowers and a copper pot filled with water. First morsel of food shall go down her throat only after her return from the temple.
Like her, many of the elderly in the old city, men and women, would go to the temples, everyday, carrying a small metal pot of water and some flowers or a garland, to offer prayers before taking their first morsel of food for the day.
Can you imagine what sights did these freshly bathed temple goers, dressed in fresh attire, face as they stepped out of their homes on their way to the temples ?
Well, more often than not, they were presented with the shameful sight of the sweepers carrying night soil in the open bamboo baskets perched on their heads.
Many a time you could see the human excreta dripping down their heads. The open drains of the narrow lanes also carried shit giving out a foul smell. This foul smell was mixed with the fragrance of agarbattis, camphor and sandalwood, laced with the chanting of the holy mantras.
I was always ashamed of our society that permitted this shameful practice where some of us, the sweepers, were expected to carry the dripping night soil of others, on their heads, to earn their livelihood.
Jammu, like scores of other old cities in the country, suffered from the curse of dry sanitation for hundreds of years. As I look back on the city of the sixties onwards, this is the malady I was most ashamed of. But, thank heavens, the current generation of Jammuites don’t have to suffer such abominable sights any more !
Sights of the dripping night soil from the heads of the sweepers, young, old, men, women, as also the sight of the human excreta floating in the open drains, with foul smell emanating from it, was certainly a scourge on the face of the holy City of Temples.
The very sight of all this as you stepped out of the homes in the old city is so deeply etched in my memory that, even today, the very thought of it spreads a foul smell all around.
Now, you don’t see those dreadful sights of night soil being carried by our fellow humans on their heads. Most of the old city has been covered with the underground sewerage lines. I say most, because, a few parts of the city still suffer from the old malady, so I learn.
I learn that many households, not adequately covered with underground sewerage system, get rid of the human excreta and let it out in the drains, open or otherwise. But, thankfully no excreta is carried on the heads in the bamboo baskets.
Modern colonies of Jammu, like Gandhi Nagar, Trikuta Nagar, and Chhanni Himmat you don’t have proper sewerage systems installed. Even otherwise well laid Sainik Colony, Greater Kailash, Apna Vihar suffer the same malady. But, thankfully, these colonies offer better systems than the age old dry sanitation. They use septic tanks and soaking pits and the paraphernalia.
It is sad that even today, we have a number of colonies and areas in Jammu where there is no underground sewerage system installed.
To my mind, laying of proper and working world class sanitation and sewerage systems along with a web of well covered drains should be the first priority of a modern progressive society.
Today, Jammu boasts of , inter alia, fibre optics with 5G speeds, the AIIMS ( All India Institute of Medical Sciences ) and and the IITs ( Indian Institute of Technology), but , alas, a proper sewerage system seems a distant dream.
Jammu is one of the cities of our country that has been included in the list of cities to be given the facilities of a smart city. I wonder if proper sanitation, hygiene and sewarage system is a part of this smart city bouquet.
Poor sanitation practices lead to polluted river waters. I fail to appreciate how we could pollute the waters of our rivers ? We who live in a society that worships rivers like a mother ?
A campaign to hold regular Aarti for river Tawi is underway in Jammu under the stewardship of Chander Mohan Sharma, a socio-political activist. He wants to glorify the riverfront on the lines of the famous aarti of the Ganges in Varanasi.
I attended the event twice. I was dismayed to find that even the ghat, the riverbank, the place where Aarti is held, was full of excreta and garbage.
Untreated human excreta, wastewater and unsegregated garbage are freely allowed to flow into river Tawi since times immemorial.
How can we call ourselves civilised, modern or progressive if we cannot ensure that only the treated waste is allowed to enter our rivers ? Don’t we understand the repercussions ? The devastation such unholy practice brings to our community health is known to us well.
We have plans to beautify the river front of Tawi, creating an artificial lake and the walking path along the waters of the river. But, sadly, we have no plans to install more wastewater treatment plants by the riverside so that only safe waste is permitted to enter the revered river we worship.
Every year, Hindus celebrate Makar Sankranti in the month of January, mostly on 14 January. This festival is dedicated to the Hindu religious Sun god called Surya. The significance of Surya is traceable to the Vedic texts. River Tawi is considered to be Suryaputri, daughter of the Sun god. She, therefore, is venerable to the Hindus.
This year, on 15 January, to mark the Makar Sankranti, a grand ceremony was held by the riverside, and an Aarti, a prayer set to music and rendered as a devotional song, for river Tawi was released eulogising the sacred river and thanking her. In an Aarti, worshippers offer light, agni, to the gods and sing praise to them.
The event was held in the 25th because 13 / 14 January rains washed away the temporary facade erected for the grand event
Wow, we sing hymns to the sacred river as human excreta and wastewater keeps polluting her waters !
No amount of singing praises to Tawi will help her or the people she feeds. We have been singing praises of the river for centuries and not taking adequate care of her waters in any way. We need to change our mindsets and help the waters remain unpolluted and pure. This, in turn, only helps us remain clean and healthy.
What river Tawi needs today is a few effective and modern wastewater treatment plants in the city. The current measures are not adequate and urgent addition is the need of the hour. Merely singing an Aarti would offer no relief to the suffering river.
How I wish in place of an Aarti, a waste treatment plant was inaugurated on this Makar Sankranti, which would keep our river waters safe and clean ! That should be the best tribute and thanksgiving to a pious river that Tawi is !