Divine intervention saves golden mahseer

Anupma Khanna | Dehradun

Religion and nature are one, both being delicate manifestations of the same God, it is said. However, it is not very often that one witnesses as powerful a show of the gospel as around the shrines abutting the Ramganga in Uttarakhand; where people’s absolute faith in Hinduism is saving a magnificent life form from getting wiped out forever.

In what is remarkable, Hindu temples dotting the river in Pauri and Nainital have become isolated sanctuaries protecting the mighty, but threatened, golden mahseer from ruthless illegal fishing methods by the locals. Mahseer is a prized freshwater species having high culinary demand in the Ramganga region.

Consequently, fishing pressure is acute and despite having been declared endangered by the National Bureau of Fish Genetic Resources 18 years ago, it continues to be massacred through explosions, electrocution and poisoning.

However, amidst this bustle are stretches of the Ramganga where the mahseer thrives, protected against all illegal fishing methods. Be it the famous Garjia shrine, the ancient Baijnath or the array of smaller austere temples, these holy places have become isolated sanctuaries for the endangered fish. The priests of these shrines have prohibited fish catching in the area and its absolute reverence among natives makes the mahseer flourish even in the absence of any official guard.

“Hinduism is the essence of our lives. And at the core of Hinduism is valuing every creation of God. Therefore, true divine service is in protecting the being as opposed to offering prayers while taking lives. This is the philosophy underlying angling prohibition near temples. The golden mahseer is a marvel of nature and we must not let it die,” elaborated priest Shiv Prasad in a conversation with The Pioneer.

As reiterated by Corbett-based wildlife conservationist Sumantha Ghosh, “It is amazing to perceive the intangible, outlasting sway of spirituality in causing behavioural changes. The mahseer is a highly-valued food fish among the bucolic locals. However, the same people do not touch the fish in these spots because of the religious underpinnings, forcing the mahseer to find sanctuary in isolated pools next to temples.”

The phenomenon clearly establishes that the reigning centrality of divine faith to the Hindu way of life accords a strong sway to religious leaders in rendering mindsets, making them one of the most potent harbingers of grassroots activism.

As emphasised by artist Smita Rathor in a conversation with The Pioneer, “Given India’s socio-cultural setting, eco-feminism and an emotional connect are the most sustainable approaches to environment conservation. In India, theism is sacrosanct. The success of these temples has significant connotations and must be replicated throughout the country.”

However, the golden mahseer may still be wiped out. As warned by Dr Shiv Kumar of Wildlife Institute of India, during monsoons the larger, adult mahseers migrate upstream for spawning and are massacred. Reiterating the same, Misty Dhillon, proprietor of the Himalayan Outback near Marchulaa lamented, “Protected areas comprising the Corbett and temple vicinities will not be effective unless something is done about the slaughtering of mahseer when they migrate to breed.”

River resources of the area are controlled by the forest department but ‘no patrols are being carried out to monitor the river and nothing is in place to stop the damage being done’, admonishes a recent study undertaken by a local NGO in collaboration with Wildlife Institute of India.

The study has found that dynamites are being used all along the river every day, killing everything in the vicinity of the blast with fry, fingerlings and other aquatic species often being a part of the discarded by-catch. Also rampant are bleaching, electrocution and snares. Compounding these direct threats are excessive sand mining and over extraction of water destroying aquatic habitat.

Mining is particularly intensive on the Gagas, a tributary of the Ramganga that runs through Bhikasain. Here, families are reported to mine sand from the river bed every day for jeeps and trucks to collect and transport to the market, dramatically altering the natural flow of the river and causing a crater effect with banks of discarded gravel and pools of stagnant water. Forty kg of sand is being sold for `20.

Clearly, a lot needs to be done — and done quickly. For barely a distance from the protected precincts of the Corbett National Park, one is appalled by the deterioration of the fragile ecosystem that is pushing many exotic life forms to the brink of disappearance. Yet, there may be no denying that the voluntary temple sanctuaries by the Ramganga have many a lesson to inspire.



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