October 30, 2015

India: After History, It’s The Turn Of Geography (Varun Bidhuri)

Tehelka - 2015-11-07 , Issue 45 Volume 12

After History, It’s The Turn Of Geography
Like Dinanath Batra, who has been fighting for ‘Indian’ values, Darshan Lal Jain is trying to revive a river which probably never existed outside Hindu mythology.
Varun Bidhuri

Kurukshetra,About 25-30 km from Haryana’s Kurukshetra, where the epic Mahabharata battle is supposed to have been fought, Darshan Lal Jain says he has found the Saraswati river. “There is no doubt that the stream of water which came gushing out of the earth during excavation in Mughlawali, Yamuna Nagar, is the water of Saraswati river which is supposed to have disappeared thousands of years back,” he asserts.

“I believe in Hindu mythology,” he tells TEHELKA, lest anybody doubts that he is among the believers rather than the scientists. “For more than the last 25 years, I have been struggling to make people believe that the Saraswati river flowed through this area in olden times.” The river has for long been variously described as mythical, ‘disappeared’, underground or dried up.

Jain’s time may well have come, as did Dinanath Batra’s when the BJP government came to power at the Centre. With its belief that ancient India holds the key to Hindu nationalist pride, the regime might give Jain’s finding the stamp of authority. Scientific evidence, of course, can wait.

“I initiated a campaign with Padma Shree VK Vakankar in 1987,” he says. “In order to bolster my crusade, I formed the Saraswati Nadi Shodh Sansthan in 1999. I believe that the so-called ‘mythical Sarawati’ is no myth, but a reality. The stream of water which came gushing out of the land in Yamunanagar district on 5 May this year is the water of the Saraswati, which used to flow from here,” says Jain who was a former sarsanghchalak of the Haryana branch of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).
Udgam Sthal Adi Badri, the genesis of ‘Saraswati’

Udgam Sthal Adi Badri, the genesis of ‘Saraswati’

It may be recalled that Dinanath Batra, retired school teacher and RSS Pracharak, had on 30 May 2001 served a legal notice to Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi for passing a resolution at its plenary session that he said was defamatory towards Vidya Bharati schools. Batra’s objection was to the statement that textbooks used by Vidya Bharati promoted violence towards minorities, justified the caste system, sati and child marriage as being a part of Indian culture, and contained superstitions and concocted facts inimical to scientific temper.

In 2006, Batra filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), raising some objections about the contents of secondary school social science and history textbooks. Some objections were based on the argument that Bipin Chandra Pal, Aurobindo Ghosh, Lala Lajpat Rai, Bhagat Singh and Bal Gangadhar Tilak had been incorrectly described as “militants”.

He had his first taste of success on 15 May 2007, when he got Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan to remove sex education from the state curriculum. According to Batra, the books offended Indian values. At his suggestion, yoga was to be added to the curriculum instead. This action found wide condemnation. S Anandhi, a scholar on gender issues, expressed her anguish that a tool that could prevent child sexual abuse and control the spread of HIV/AIDS was being prohibited.

Undeterred, Batra wrote a letter on behalf of the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti which stated that teachers who followed the sex education curriculum could be jailed for two years on the charge of outraging the modesty of a woman or dishonouring a person.

With such a precedent as encouragement, Jain is going full speed ahead with his plans. He says, “Temples have already been built in Adi Badri for the people to come and see the Saraswati river and to worship. Very soon, the locals would renovate the dharamsala for visitors and tourists who will come from thousands of kilometres away to see the river.”

The area’s keenness to claim the river named after the goddess who is part of the reigning trinity — along with Lakshmi and Parvati — is understandable. “Saraswati is the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts, wisdom and nature. These three helped the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva in the creation of the universe,” the locals are quick to point out.

Regardless of the truth behind his claims, the authorities are gearing up to seize upon this opportunity to boost tourist inflows. The small state is renowned for having built tourist attractions where none existed before. A reliable government source from Haryana says, “Future plans involve the government and the locals planning to build up temples along the banks of the Saraswati River. This will help increase tourism in Haryana.”
Redrawing Geography Darshan Lal Jain’s search for authenticity in myth

Redrawing Geography Darshan Lal Jain’s search for authenticity in myth

On a visit to the spot, TEHELKA was told the earth was being dug up since 21 April at Rohlaveri village and Mughlawali. Suddenly on the morning of 5 May, fresh water was found while digging at a depth of 7-8 feet. Word spread quickly that the river, which was ‘lost’ thousands of years back has now been found. This brought a flood of ministers, outsiders and locals to the excavation site to see the miracle themselves.

In March 2015, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar announced a sum of Rs 50 crore for the whole project, though the administration has yet to find the funds. The BJP government which is in power in the state – a happy circumstance for Jain — announced the excavation of Saraswati River under the MGNREGA scheme from Adi Badri, the point from which it is said to have originated (udgam sthal). TEHELKA found the excavation and digging work extending from Adi Bari to Rohlaheri (Bilaspur tehsil) and on to Uncha Chandna (Mustafabad sub-tehsil) — a distance of more than 15 km. More than 200 families have been working on the project.

Local people credit Jain for this. “The excavation work for the search of the river was initiated thanks to Darshan Lal’s efforts. He circulated a book Saraswati Darshan among the local people.”

In this atmosphere, it would be difficult to convince anyone of the evidence contained in some documents that were revealed after an rti query. They state clearly: “No satellite imagery, no geological survey by national body was conducted. The Haryana government’s hunt for the mythical Saraswati river is based on the primary level survey conducted by District Development Panchayat Office (DDPO) and revenue records dating back to the 16th century.”

According to these documents, there are no such reports from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and Geological Survey of India (GSI) relating to Yamunanagar.

Click to zoom

Click to zoom

Jain further adds, “The satellite images obtained from ISRO prove that paleochannels of the lost river still exist below the ground.” TEHELKA possesses documents which show that the claim is on the basis of land revenue records and the panchayat development office.

Harman Singh, director of the Geological Survey of India (GSI), tells TEHELKA, “Gushing water cannot be declared as Saraswati river without any technical research. We have got nothing in this regard from the central government. I am not denying the existence of the Saraswati river nor am I questioning Darshan Lal and other locals on the existence of Saraswati.” He sticks to his point that any water gushing out of Haryana soil need not be from the Saraswati river.

“It requires lots of research and technical work on the basis of revenue records and district’s primary records,” says Singh. “Water which came out while digging can be ground water, which generally seeps in after heavy rain in villages. Many times, it is drawn by hand pumps.”

Singh, it turns out, is the right man to ask whether there has been any official declaration from the GSI regarding the Saraswati river in Haryana. Had any such studies been done? He replies, “Since the last 35 years, I am working with GSI. As now, no such official announcement has been made by us, no official research has been done, no official notice has been received from the central government.” He concedes, however, that there might be individual research being conducted.

Experts are not amused. Eminent historian DN Jha says, “It’s hilarious to say that first researchers found Saraswati river in Rajasthan, then in Allahabad, then in Afghanistan and then in the Arabian Sea. And, BJP and RSS now claim it is in Haryana.”

He asks in exasperation, “People would like to know how many Saraswati rivers there were. And which river the Haryana government has found. What is the flow of the river? First government should make it clear. This is politics over mythology. BJP and RSS want to rename the Indus civilization as Saraswati Civilisation, because the Indus Valley, Harappa and Mohenjo-daro are now in Pakistan.”

It may be recalled that in 2002, then Union minister for tourism Jagmohan (after being shifted from urban development) in the first NDA government, ordered the excavation in Haryana to trace the course of the lost river. His efforts yielded no result and he had to face flak for pushing the Sangh Parivar’s agenda.

Nevertheless, the believers are undaunted. Somnath Sarpanch, a 57-year-old from Mughlawali village, tells TEHELKA, “We believe the goddess always resided in our land. We heard from our ancestors that Saraswati used to flow here in Mughal times. Water being found at the site has proved them right.” They further believe that it originates in the Himalayas but this fact has never been established.

Sarpanch further adds, “The fact is proved when you store the water. When you keep it bottled, the water remains clean and no bacteria can be seen. If we do the same with handpump water, it turns black after two-three days. Its purity proves that it comes from the Saraswati river.”
Click to zoom

Click to zoom

Encountering the Sarpanch’s statement, 56-year-old Jarnail Singh from Mughalwali, Yamunanagar, says, “This is all politics. The RSS and the BJP bring fake sadhus and pundits to fool villagers but we are not as foolish as the government thinks, we understand everything. No doubt, today’s Saraswati is not Saraswati. It is a thrilling mix of faith, politics, science and mythology.”

Singh further adds, “This is all rubbish. 150 years back, one seasonal river used to flow from here: Our ancestors called it Saraswati. Land revenue records say the same. We all know these records are based on testimony from our ancestors. How could one say it is Saraswati river on behalf of RSS. No, this is wrong. People are playing with Hindu sentiments.”

Another villager Sarjeet Singh has a different logic. “If our prime minister can go and inaugurate one metro station in Faridabad, why not the Sarawati river which is attached with the sentiments and mythology of crores of Hindus? It is because he himself knows that all this is drama planted to placate Hindu sentiments.”

Sarbjeet has another concern. “It is ground water. The excavation will very soon create a problem for farmers as the project is cutting through their lands. I don’t understand why we turn into Saraswati seekers, and tap into our religious sentiment every time the BJP comes to power.”

Gagandeep Singh, office bearer of DDPO says, “The work has been executed. The revenue department has acquired the 1,900 acres of land from the farmers to work on this land. The total project is of 55 km in which we have already completed 11 km of the digging work; the rest will be done very soon.” Several agencies are involved in the Saraswati project. The Haryana government has given 65 lakh to Water and Power Consultancy Services (WAPCOS), India to prepare a detailed project report for revival of the river. Very soon other agencies will be asked to get involved in this project.”

Aditya Mukherjee, Dean of the Centre for Historical Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University says, “Sometimes I laugh about BJP and RSS activities. Claiming ground water as Saraswati river is an illiterate attempt to convert mythology into history. It is complete abrogation of the scientific temper.”

According to the Mayank Vahia, a scientist working with Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, reports released in media say that there is only one river that links the Yamuna and Sutlej rivers. In India, it is called the Ghaggar. As it moves into Pakistan, it becomes Hakra, which is dry today but earlier satellite reports and ground surveys say that it was once a huge river.

One version of the Mahabharat says the Saraswati dried up in a desert (at a place named Vinasana or Adarsana). Other theories propound that geological changes and tectonics diverted the Sutlej towards the Indus and the Yamuna towards the Ganges, following which the river did not have enough water to reach the sea and dried up in the Thar desert.

As of now, the government expenditure on the Saraswati project without reports from either ISRO or GSI to support its claims are bound to land the government in deep water. Meanwhile, people are visiting the place where the water spouts on a daily basis and carrying the ‘holy’ water home with them.

ONGC Pitches In, Drills For Water Instead Of Oil

The PSU says it was inspired by the discovery of large aquifers under the Libyan desert.

Public sector ‘autonomous’ institution Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) has used the corporate social responsibility (CSR) conduit to extend a helping hand to the Saraswati project.

Tehelka has in its possession a letter from Haryana’s revenue department written by ONGC Dehradun to the deputy commissioner, Yamunanagar, based in the Haryana mini secretariat, thanking him for extending help and co-operation for drilling of groundwater wells.

ONGC says it is inspired by the multi-billion dollar effort which was launched in Libya after freshwater resources buried deep underground (at a depth of 2,000 metres) were identified during hydrocarbon exploration in the Libya desert. (Two major deserts make up the Egyptian desert region — the Eastern desert and the Libyan desert.) .

A source says freshwater resources equivalent to 200 years of flow through the Nile in deep aquifers under the desert had inspired the ‘ONGC Saraswati Project’ in Rajasthan in 2005. For initial expenditure, the ONGC board approved Rs 1.7 crore for the pilot study covering 13 districts of western Rajasthan. The geological studies, electrical surveys and drilling were initiated through an MoU with Water and Power Consultancy Services (India) Ltd (WAPCOS).

Documents say WAPCOS recommended vertical electrical sounding surveys in Bikaner, Barmer and Jaisalmer districts. Drilling of the first of the seven wells, 1. 6 km from Jaisalmer town, to a target depth of 550m was taken up in June 2006. The well was to be drilled up to a depth of 554m, deeper than any known well in that area. It was done upto 449m only and tested from 461m to 498m.

Water rose to 90m below ground level and flowed at 76,000 litres per hour during the pumping test. WAPCOS experts advised that the water may be pumped up through a tubewell and used for drinking purposes.

A source in the Rajasthan government reveals, “The state government is busy digging tubewells and canals in the scorched land of the region, closely tracing the route of the mythical Saraswati river. Whenever water is found—sometimes hundreds of feet under — party workers and other parivar organisations claim that the river has been revived.”

The state has demanded more than Rs 60 crore from the central government for the ‘Saraswati Project’. The aim is not only to find water, which will help residents of this dry zone, but also give credibility to the theory that the Vedic Saraswati once flowed here.

Rajasthan government’s reports are based on the studies conducted with funding from the Rajiv Gandhi National Drinking Water Mission. The study was done to find underground water sources in Jaisalmer in order to solve the problem of drinking water since the Indira canal, which brings water from the Bhakra Nangal dam in Punjab and Himachal Pradesh, was under constant strain. The canal supplies water to the cities of Jaisalmer and Barmer, among others, and to some villages in all districts.

As it progresses with the project, ONGC has extended the scope to cover the state. ONGC’s former exploration director NK Verma had already released a statement to media saying, “ONGC has committees to carry out drilling of deep borewells in the Saraswati river course.” When contacted by Tehelka, however, he said he would not be able to speak on the project because his designation has been changed and he is no longer updated on the project.

In Haryana and Rajasthan, the BJP is not leaving any stone (or sand dune) unturned in promoting the importance of the mythical river among farmers. At a meeting of various farmers’ unions from the state in Panipat in September, representatives from the BJP sold the idea of abundant water supply for agriculture to its voters.

The real contours of the project were revealed by the Haryana CM when he told media, “Until we discover the original Saraswati river, we will keep the social faith by flowing water in it, so that it becomes a major pilgrimage spot for the devout.”


(Published in Tehelka Magazine, Volume 12 Issue 45, Dated 7 November 2015)