Devotees face health scare from polluted Yamuna 

Yamuna river. AFP file photo

Lakhs of devotees, mainly brothers and sisters, face health hazards as they prepare to take a dip in the highly polluted waters of the Yamuna river on the occasion of 'Yama Dwitiya' on Tuesday.

According to the mythology, Yamuna is considered to be the sister of Yama, the god of death, and Hindus believe they can avoid Yama's wrath by bathing in the river on the day at Mathura, about 400 kms from here.

Barely a few days back, more than two hundred devotees, mostly women, had fallen sick and had to be hospitalised after having 'achman' (sipping the water during puja) at Yamuna river in Mathura. Many are still being treated at different hospitals.

Every year lakhs of devotees, mostly brothers and sisters from across the country, throng Mathura and its adjoining town of Vrindavan, to offering 'puja' at the 'Yama-Yamuna' temple and take a dip in the river.

"Yamuna water is not fit even for irrigation... the river is very polluted at several points in Delhi, Mathura and Vrindavan and bathing and achman can make people sick," said Himanshu Thakkar, a coordinator with South Asian Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP).

Speaking to DH over the phone, Thakkar said that one could have skin and digestive problems and serious long-term ailments by using Yamuna water.

He said that the situation had aggravated further owing to "less rains" in the Yamuna basin this year.

Vineet Narayan, who was associated with Brij Foundation, a voluntary organisation engaged in conservation of ancient water bodies and other cultural symbols in the areas in and around Mathura, said the devotees took risks owing to faith. 

"The river is highly polluted... the devotees are driven by their faith... they take the risk," Narain told DH. He said that the government must "ensure the highest standard of cleanliness" especially, in view of the forthcoming 'Yam Dwitiya' festival.

Local seers in Mathura and Vrindavan have been demanding measures to cleanse the river. Officials said that additional water was being released to the river so that the quality could improve.

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