Banaras Diary

Why the boatmen of Banaras nearly decided to vote NOTA

The boatmen, farmers and fishermen who live along and on the Ganga have become disillusioned with the frontrunners in the race, despite every candidate paying lip service to their needs.

The battle between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress doesn’t interest Vinod Sahni. He’s interested in a different race altogether, the kind that happens on the Ganga. Chipping away at the wooden skeleton of a new competition boat, the 27 year old dismisses all politicians as members of the mafia — whichever mafia that might be.

“This isn’t your Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai,” Sahni says, never looking away from the rough edge of a newly built hull, which he is slowly smoothing out. “This is UP-Bihar. Here you will have and can only have the mafia.”

Sahni is vice secretary of the Varanasi Nishad Raj Kalyan Samiti, one of several groups that represent the Nishads, a boatman caste who are also called Mallahs. Along with the Binds, who till the land along the Ganga, and the Macchhuaras, the fishermen, the Nishads are the true owners of the great river that is given lip service by every politician who travels through Varanasi.

The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi said he had decided to contest from here after “Maa Ganga” had called him. The Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal has made the Ganga a central plank of his manifesto for the constituency. And the Congress’ Ajay Rai, the only local leader among the three in the lead, insists no outsider will be able to understand the spiritual significance that the river has for Varanasi’s residents.

And yet none of the three will be getting the votes of one large chunk of Nisha-Bind-Macchhuara voters, the people whose lives are intricately connected to the river. Two weeks ago, members of the Maa Ganga Nishadraj Sewa Samiti — another organisation that represents the people of the Ganga — realised no one was really listening to their concerns, so they decided to collectively vote NOTA (none of the above).

“They all spoke of Ganga Maiyya, but nobody was willing to come and talk to us,” said "Guru" Vinod Nishad, who founded the organisation. “So we made the decision to press NOTA, and publicised it.”

The problems of the locals from the community all revolve around the river. They are not always allowed to ply their boats without being hassled. Nishad also said Binds and Macchhuaras are regularly picked up by the police if they stray too far away from home. No licences have been handed out for motorboat owners for nearly two decades, because of a stretch of the river considered a wildlife protection zone.

“This is our river. We own it,” said Ajay Nishad, a boatman. “So getting a licence, deciding who can be on the river, this should be in our hands. The people who run the hotels on the Ganga, they are the ones ruining the river, and they are hand-in-glove with the police. The government needs to give power back to the people of and on the river.”

Then there are environmental concerns, starting with the state of the water. Every candidate has mentioned cleaning up the Ganga, yet according to Jhatkaa, an advocacy group, and Varanasi’s Sankat Mochan Foundation, none of the three leading parties have committed to their five-point agenda based on the Ganga Action Plan that was put together in the 1980s.

Despite this, Deepa Gupta, the Executive Director of Jhatkaa, said the increased focus on Varanasi has made her optimistic about chances that there will be some action.

“It’s a huge deal that it has come into the political limelight, which is a good thing,” Gupta said. “ There will be a higher ability for us to hold the government accountable. My actual concern is whether they will take appropriate action… will they implement technology that is appropriate for Indian conditions, and will they be transparent with the way they spend their funds?”

Having said that, Gupta also pointed out the “fight to the bottom” between the BJP and the Congress that had taken place last week, with either side attacking the other over whether they can actually clean the river.

Sahni, the boat-builder, also said keeping the river clean should be the first point of every candidate’s agenda. “The first thing they should just do is ban all plastic from Varanasi,” he said. “You see the state of this river? That’s because of all the plastic that comes into it.”

Oddly enough, one party appears to have been the most active on this front — and it’s not one of the big three in Varanasi. On May 9, three days before the election, the Maa Ganga Nishadraj Sewa Samiti overruled its own decision about voting NOTA and decided to support the Samajwadi Party candidate instead. Nishad said this decision had been taken after the party approached them and promised to take into account all their concerns.

“No one else came to talk to us, except SP,” he said. “Their karyakartas came to our panchayat, and said they will do work for our castes. They said they will help stop the police misbehaviour, they will assist with the licences and improve the river. Whether they win or lose here, they are in the state government and they do have some power to help us. So we have decided to support them.”

The SP’s candidate was one of only two parties, along with the Community Party of India (Marxist), to fully pledge to Jhatkaa’s five-point agenda — although AAP did make positive noises about the programme.

“If they can do the basics for us, that’s all we want,” Nishad said. “What do the people of the Ganga want? To be able to ply our boats, plough our land and catch our fish in peace. That’s all.”

 
Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

A special shade of blue inspired these musicians to create a musical piece

Thanks to an interesting neurological condition called synesthesia.

On certain forums on the Internet, heated discussions revolve around the colour of number 9 or the sound of strawberry cupcake. And most forum members mount a passionate defence of their points of view on these topics. These posts provide insight into a lesser known, but well-documented, sensory condition called synesthesia - simply described as the cross wiring of the senses.

Synesthetes can ‘see’ music, ‘taste’ paintings, ‘hear’ emotions...and experience other sensory combinations based on their type. If this seems confusing, just pay some attention to our everyday language. It’s riddled with synesthesia-like metaphors - ‘to go green with envy’, ‘to leave a bad taste in one’s mouth’, ‘loud colours’, ‘sweet smells’ and so on.

Synesthesia is a deeply individual experience for those who have it and differs from person to person. About 80 different types of synesthesia have been discovered so far. Some synesthetes even have multiple types, making their inner experience far richer than most can imagine.

Most synesthetes vehemently maintain that they don’t consider their synesthesia to be problem that needs to be fixed. Indeed, synesthesia isn’t classified as a disorder, but only a neurological condition - one that scientists say may even confer cognitive benefits, chief among them being a heightened sense of creativity.

Pop culture has celebrated synesthetic minds for centuries. Synesthetic musicians, writers, artists and even scientists have produced a body of work that still inspires. Indeed, synesthetes often gravitate towards the arts. Eduardo is a Canadian violinist who has synesthesia. He’s, in fact, so obsessed with it that he even went on to do a doctoral thesis on the subject. Eduardo has also authored a children’s book meant to encourage latent creativity, and synesthesia, in children.

Litsa, a British violinist, sees splashes of paint when she hears music. For her, the note G is green; she can’t separate the two. She considers synesthesia to be a fundamental part of her vocation. Samara echoes the sentiment. A talented cellist from London, Samara can’t quite quantify the effect of synesthesia on her music, for she has never known a life without it. Like most synesthetes, the discovery of synesthesia for Samara was really the realisation that other people didn’t experience the world the way she did.

Eduardo, Litsa and Samara got together to make music guided by their synesthesia. They were invited by Maruti NEXA to interpret their new automotive colour - NEXA Blue. The signature shade represents the brand’s spirit of innovation and draws on the legacy of blue as the colour that has inspired innovation and creativity in art, science and culture for centuries.

Each musician, like a true synesthete, came up with a different note to represent the colour. NEXA roped in Indraneel, a composer, to tie these notes together into a harmonious composition. The video below shows how Sound of NEXA Blue was conceived.

Play

You can watch Eduardo, Litsa and Samara play the entire Sound of NEXA Blue composition in the video below.

Play

To know more about NEXA Blue and how the brand constantly strives to bring something exclusive and innovative to its customers, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of NEXA and not by the Scroll editorial team.