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Saving lives in Kumbh Mela, struggling for own survival

A tale of the misery of fishermen deployed in Kumbh Mela with their boats to save the lives of devotees, but struggling for their own survival

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Dheerendra Nishad, 28, from Lawayan Kalan Uparhar village in Karchhana, since the beginning of Prayagraj Kumbh Mela has saved two children and a woman, drowning while taking ‘holy dip’ in the Sangam, the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and mythical river Saraswati. 

Hired by the contractor in the mela, inter passed Dheerendra sails a boat to save the devotees if they get drowned while taking a bath in the Sangam. He is part of over 10,000 boats deployed by Kumbh Mela administration through a contactor across the waters of Ganga and Yamuna. For complying his duty, he is supposed to get around Rs 10,000 in a month. Besides Kumbh, organised for a period of 50 days every six year in Prayagraj, he serves in Magh Mela too, organised for a month every year except the Kumbh year at the Sangam. 

A landless and inter passed Dheerendra who couldn’t find a job elsewhere does fishing in the Yamuna river for earning bread and butter for his family including his two kids. By fishing, he is able to earn Rs 250 to Rs 300 per day. On many occasions, he has to return without a single penny if he fails a catch a fish.  

Living in a kutcha (temporary) house, he is not even aware of Government of India sponsored rural housing scheme, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) which provides a grant for making homes to the poor in the villages. About rural jobs schemes, Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), he said, “The Pradhan of the village provides jobs only to few people who worked for him in election.” 

He got made his boat a year ago by spending around Rs 32,000 and spends around Rs 1000 every two months for its maintenance.  

Similar to Dheerendra, the 10th standard passed Rinku Nishad is also deployed in the Kumbh Mela with his boat. He navigates boat since the age of seven years and has a similar story. He couldn't find any job and fishing is the only source of his income. In 2018 Magh Mela, the contractor paid him Rs 9,000 for a month. 

Another fisherman deployed in Kumbh Mela by the same contractor, Vijay Bahadur Nishad, 43, from the same village, has similar story to tell. A landless person, he does fishing in the Ganga and Yamuna rivers for his livelihood. He is into fishing from 10 years of age. He feels little relieved as he gets financial support from his son who works for a contractor in transporting of sand.  

Central government’s rural housing scheme, PMAY is just a new puzzle he has heard about. Similar to Dheeredra, malpractices at the panchayat level has isolated him from the benefits of government sponsored schemes.

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