Jhelum’s Kashmir course is getting murkier due to the mess created by the ‘civilized citizenry’ in the name of modern lifestyle.
Just before a ‘decade of decay’, Nazir Zargar had a religious routine.
The plump baker in his early fifties would come out at the first light and take a refreshing plunge in the river Jhelum.
The ancient dip would draw sundry on the riverbanks in his hometown Baramulla — the old town resting on the rim of the fabled river.
After men would leave, the women folk would arrive in droves and talk their hearts out during the cathartic cleaning session.
But now, neither men arrive at predawn nor women come out for the washing outing.
Bereft of liveliness, the banks have now become bane due to the mess created by the “civilized citizenry” in the name of modern “delusional” lifestyle.
“Let me begin from myself,” Nazir says as he puts a dough slice inside a mud furnace for baking, “I’m equally responsible for this mess.”
The introspective remark resonates at a time when the burdened banks are stinking and keeping people away from the once recreational hangouts.
The troubled water has dead cattle and garbage floating all over its surface now, while its banks are laden with littered trash.
As an open sink, Jhelum faces the junk offensive throughout its serpentine course.
“But at the end of the day,” the baker leaving finger impressions on the raw bread says, “this stinking Jhelum is comment on all of us.”
Before becoming an eyesore, the water of Jhelum was used as a drinking water supply to many areas. But now its fallen quality is making it look like a flowing drain.
“Jhelum is no longer a desirable site here,” Nazir continues.
“But since it concerns all of us, it needs a community support for revival. If people in Srinagar can restore a dead lake called Khushal Sar, then Jhelum can be saved from the garbage assault with the collective will. I think preachers have to play a role here. They need to tell people why a natural resource like Jhelum is important for the human survival.”
But in absence of such will, locals are facing what they call “persistent” drinking water woes.
“Whenever my family faces drinking water crisis,” says Mohammad Shafi Marazi, a local resident in Baramulla, “I bring home Bisleris from shops.”
The local residents would earlier use the water of Jhelum for drinking or cooking purposes.
“But now it’s unthinkable to even visit the riverbanks,” Shafi says.
“While I’m equally responsible for this mess as a member of the Kashmiri community, we do expect government to take some proactive measures for restoring some fallen grace of this iconic river.”
Shafi talks about the times when the Jhelum’s crystal clear water would send ‘mood-lifting’ vibes in the buoyant town.
“Back then,” he says, “the riverbanks were full of life where people used to clean and spend some leisurely time. But gradually, it started losing its value due to the mindless acts of pollution.”
But despite criticism and concern, the sewerage pipes and toilets are unabatedly ruining the river right under the nose of authorities.
“There has been an equal hand of Municipality in this pollution process,” Shafi alleges.
“In fact, they collect the garbage from many areas and unload their loaded carts in the river.”
But the Municipality, says its executive, can’t be blamed for the society’s mess.
“We do a door-to-door collection of garbage and conduct a weekly cleaning drive on riverbanks,” says Imtiyaz ul Haq, executive officer Municipality Council, Baramulla.
“But unfortunately, people don’t step back from throwing garbage on riverbanks.”
The locals, however, are upbeat about their story.
They say no concrete steps are being taken to dispose of garbage properly.
The waste collected from the town areas is also dumped near the riverbanks which as per locals also gets dissolved into the Jhelum when the water level increases.
Throwing his weight behind the clean riverbank drive in Baramulla, Abdul Ahad Dar says the official cooperation is must for any community response.
“It’s not that civil society of Baramulla is sitting on this issue,” Ahad says.
“The problem is our petitions against this pollution have so far failed to draw any official response.”
Amid all this, the putrid pile of garbage is now creating a perceptive problem in marriage prospects in the riverbank areas.
“If tomorrow I would be getting a marriage proposal for my children, who will accept them in this stink,” said Nasreena Begum of Baramulla.
Nasreen has always been worried about the presence of trash behind her house which people around her vicinity dispose of on the riverbank. It has led to a fetid smell in the housing colony.
“The Municipality never collects the garbage from this site which has created more difficulties for us,” Nasreen said.
“If the situation remains this bad, we will be forced to migrate from this place.”
Clearly, ‘rubbished’ riverbanks of Baramulla have created numerous problems for the locals including stray dogs making people vulnerable to canine attacks.
“It’s difficult to walk from the riverbanks packed with barking dogs,” Nasreen said.
“One can’t live in this stinky and scary situation forever. This waste situation should be tackled immediately for the community welfare.”