‘The Ganges is our mother, there won’t be any future if she dies’

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India’s Ganges River is one of the most revered in the world; it is also one of the most polluted.

Stretching some 1,500 miles from its origins in the Himalayas to its mouth in the Bay of Bengal, the river is worshiped by many Hindus and is a water source for an estimated 400 million people. Those who worship the river believe that it has curative powers and that immersion in its waters can absolve them of sins. Bodies are burned along its banks and ashes are tossed into the water, where they mix with other pollutants, include waste from tanneries along the way.

Shortly after Narendra Modi became India’s prime minister in 2014, he pledged to spearhead an effort to clean up the Ganges, building more treatment plants and moving more than 400 tanneries away from the river. But that estimated $3 billion cleanup plan has faltered.

The continued degradation of the Ganges inspires sadness among many who revere it. Ashok Kumar, 66, a priest from Mirzapur, a brass ware hub near the river, tells Reuters, “I feel sad about what’s happening around us. The Ganges is getting dirty day by day but nobody cares. Not even its children . ….The Ganges is our mother, there won’t be any future if she dies.”

Reuters photographer Danish Siddiqui traveled along the sprawling course of the Ganges, exploring the conditions that have led some people to say that the storied river is dying. Here’s some of what he saw.

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