Last year, when I had more time and could study and research — besides gardening, my favorite pastimes — I re-read my 1990s volume, Eco-Feminism and the Sacred. That book will never lose relevance for me. In light of the recent Flint water crisis, I was struck in particular by “Ganga: Purity, Pollution, and Hinduism,” a chapter by Lina Gupta, about Ganga/the Ganges and the pollution the great goddess river suffers.
The night before I reached Gupta’s wonderful essay (I like to read first thing in the morning), I dreamed that I was dressed all in white and searching everywhere for my white shoes. Ganga is usually depicted in white, white skin, white hair, white sari, seated on a white crocodile, holding a white lotus, a vessel filled with water, and gifts and blessings (she has four arms and is therefore likely to be able to hold on to her shoes!). I couldn’t capture the rest of the dream, but I like to think that in some way, somewhere, I made some connection to her. A great deal of my work concerns the world’s water, so it felt not only curious and serendipitous, but a little magical.
Ganga is described by Gupta as “connected to all she represents, a substratum of all that she manifests and an essence of all that are parts of this created world. White is pure energy (white not being the lack of color, but the binding of all seven colors in the universe). She is a manifestation of divine energy.”
A short film called “Tade,” by Smitri Mehra, featured in my touring art exhibition, Water, Water Everywhere: Paean to a Vanishing Resource, visits the annual festival for the elephant-headed god, Ganesh. Ganesh is called “destroyer of obstacles,” but where once the giant celebratory images of him that floated into the river were made of straw and mud and melted away, today, the figures are made of plastic. Has Ganesh the Destroyer of Obstacles become the obstacle?
Although Gupta was writing in the early ’90s, not much has changed. The eco-feminist movement was profoundly prescient, yet we have been disappointingly slow to react to the cries of alarm. Ganga is still polluted. Little daily care is given to her while she is filled day and night with toxins. Gupta speaks of the belief that, as a goddess, Ganga can absorb anything, which Gupta notes also conflicts with dharma and non-violence. There is now a National Mission for Clean Ganga, supported by India’s Hindu leader, Narendra Modi, a noted Hindu fundamentalist. For once fundamentalism may come in handy. This and other environmental efforts to rid the great river goddess of filth and, ultimately, degradation, will, I hope, succeed, though it seems a bit like the triumph of hope over experience.
On Wednesday, April 20, 2016, at last, the first criminal charges were filed in Flint by the U.S. government. On May 4, President Obama visited Flint to offer succor. The state’s governor, Rick Snyder — a fundamentalist capitalist and the perpetrator of all this evil — finally decided to drop in on the city he had poisoned. He was nearly booed off the stage … needless to say to our great delight.
The sacrilege we commit so blithely, the savage misuse of our most precious resource in Michigan, in India, and all over the world is monstrous and unpardonable. Could it be that in our deep and ancient selves all peoples — even Europeans so proud of “progress” — still hold an unconscious belief that freshwater is a Divinity and therefore capable of taking any abuse? Is it possible to turn our attitudes around? To understand that water is indeed divine, and therefore must be cared for with meticulous love and respect.
* Carol J. Adams, editor, Ecofeminism and the Sacred (New York: Continuum, 1992)