Conservation, religion join to save Ganges dolphin

October 28, 2010

gangesAs the sun sets over a serene stretch of the mighty Ganges, a pair of smooth, grey dolphins arch gracefully out of the water, bringing hope that wildlife can again call India’s great river home.

(Photo: Ganges sunset in Allahabad,  31 Dec 2008/Jitendra Prakash)

Millions of Indians along the banks of the 2,500 km (1,550 mile)-long Ganges depend on the river, but unchecked levels of agricultural, industrial and domestic waste have poured in over the past decades, threatening the wildlife.

In Karnabas, a small village just upstream from Narora, a local drama troupe performs for more than 150 villagers. “Humans are polluting our river!” an actor playing a Hindu god declared. “The life of our Mother Ganga is endangered! Please do something!”

Along a northern stretch of the holy river, a Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) project is leveraging the religious importance of the Ganges for Hindus to teach villagers the virtues of conservation and protection of its sacred water. The upper stretch of the Ganges, from Rishikesh in the foothills of the Himalayas to Ram Ghat in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, holds great religious significance for Hindus.

Locations along the river figure heavily in the Hindu holy text, the Ramayana. A bathe in the river is a rite of passage.

ganges 2“The religious sensibilities of the people are interlinked with the conservation of the river,” said WWF-India project leader Sandeep Behera as he stood on the river bank in the shadow of a Hindu temple, while young boys chanted hymns on a nearby pier.

(Photo: Polluted banks of the Ganges in Kolkata, October 20, 2010/Reinhard Krause)

“If I ask a local farmer to give up just one afternoon to learn about conservation, he will ask ‘What will I eat in the evening?’,” Behera said. “Therefore, we found that religious leaders were the way to get the message across.”

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