Coin collectors of Yamuna tell tales of apathy

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The coin collection is a profession that has the age group from five years to eighty years.

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By Bhawna Malik

New Delhi, March 11: Ten years old Chandni is matured for her age. She is earning while being a good communicator and street smart. Dressed in red-pant and a shirt, embracing her own lean body, she is all set for the day, not as a school kid but as a diver coin collector at Yamuna River in Delhi.

Living in a shanty on the banks of Yamuna, Shahdara Khadar area, Chandni knows the nuances of quick coin collection and gives a stiff competition to other young divers. Raju and Munna wait patiently for their turn to jump in water but Chandni quickly takes her bamboo boat to the depths of water and displays her skills to both of them and also the group of students capturing Yamuna on their video cameras.

Faith is an integral part of Indian Spirituality and river Yamuna enjoys a sacred space in human psyche. Once a pure, pious and crystal clear Yamuna today flows as the most polluted river due to government negligence, apathy of civic body’s and citizens’ irresponsible attitude made Yamuna dirty, dusky by Industrial waste, E waste, sewage, domestic waste and also religious waste. 

The polluted water causes serious health hazards to these young divers, adversely affecting their skin, eyes and lungs. They are exposed to pollution and toxins. “Our eyes burn and we get skin rash frequently,” shares Chandni. “We don’t drink this water as its not healthy; we get water from outside and fill big bottles,” She further adds

Twenty two kms long urban stretch from Wazirabad barrage to Okhla barrage is the most polluted. Ironically, nearly 57 million people depend on Yamuna for drinking waters, the river accounts for 70 per cent of Delhi’s water supply and New Delhi itself dumps 58 per cent of its waste into the river.  

Most of the Delhi’ites have switched to bottled water by the companies and use this water for household chores only. Due to excessive increase in ammonia level of Yamuna water the toxic froth is visible throughout the year and increases during and after the festivals. 

Despite various Yamuna cleaning projects and spending of 68,000 crores of rupees by the Delhi government nothing concrete is visible on the ground to improve the prevailing situations. Surrounded by a dhobhi ghat, stray animals, duplicate water bottles stall, stingy smell and Shahdara railway bridge running over the Yamuna, the children are smart enough to know the timings of all the trains.

“People throw coins and food items from the train into the river hence we remain ready to grab the coins and other items,” explains Chandni.   

The coin collection is a profession that has the age group from five years to eighty years.  Elaborating on the daily income both Chandni and Munna share that “on daily basis we get from Rs 8 to 20, but during festivals like Navratris, Diwali, Ganesh Visarjan and Chhath pooja, we get lots of coins and coconuts. People often donate food, sweets and coins during these festivities.”

Be it is summers or winters when young divers are back in water.  Kartik Purnima, falling in November, has both spiritual and cultural value and devotees throng the Yamuna banks to offer prayers. “Yes even in cold weather we dive because more the number of people more chances of coins finding in the waters. This is our earning time,” adds Chandni.

The Covid-19 lockdown hit hard these divers as very few people came to offer prayers or ashes of the dead here “My father had a vegetable cart but covid lockdown forced him into this profession,” adds Raju, the eldest of all the children.

“I sometimes help the police to trace a body, when someone commits suicide. Once thieves threw bags of cash in water and I and my friends helped the police,” added Chandni.

At the age these young minds should be studying, they are earners for their families.  The annual migration of these families due to rise in Yamuna waters further adds to their woes. “We come back from refugee camps, once the water level decreases. Yamuna is our home. We can’t live anywhere else” The trio adds smilingly, waiting for the next train to arrive.

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