One morning in late March, Brij Khandelwal called the Agra police to report an attempted murder.
Days before, the high court in India’s Uttarakhand state had issued a landmark judgment declaring the Yamuna river – and another of India’s holiest waterways, the Ganges – “living entities”.
Khandelwal, an activist, followed the logic. “Scientifically speaking, the Yamuna is ecologically dead,” he says. His police report named a series of government officials he wanted charged with attempted poisoning. “If the river is dead, someone has to be responsible for killing it.”
In the 16th century, Babur, the first Mughal emperor, described the waters of the Yamuna as “better than nectar”. One of his successors built India’s most famous monument, the Taj Mahal, on its banks. For the first 250 miles (400km) of its life, starting in the lower Himalayas, the river glistens blue and teems with life. And then it reaches Delhi.
In India’s crowded capital, the entire Yamuna is siphoned off for human and industrial use, and replenished with toxic chemicals and sewage from more than 20 drains. Those who enter the water emerge caked in dark, glutinous sludge. For vast stretches only the most resilient bacteria survive.
The waterway that has sustained civilisation in Delhi for at least 3,000 years – and the sole source of water for more than 60 million Indians today – has in the past decades become one of the dirtiest rivers on the planet…
Further up the Yamuna, near the city of Agra, residents in Patti Pachgai village complain of an epidemic of bone deformities and fluoride poisoning. “The doctor has told me it’s the water,” says Tan Singh, who became ill five years ago and never recovered. “I can’t breathe much. When I inhale I feel stiff, my ribs ache. I can’t sit, move around, nothing,” the 40-year-old says.
A 2015 study showed towns within 2km (1.25 miles) of the Yamuna all showed at least four times the permissible level of fluoride in the water. Officials blame the millions of gallons of untreated sewage pumped into the Yamuna, which they say is seeping into groundwater. “The doctor has said to stop drinking this water and has suggested we buy bottles of filtered water,” Singh says. “Every time, how can we buy and drink it? It’s too expensive.”
*Read full article and watch video online at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/07/indian-yamuna-river-living-entity-ganges