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One of India’s most sacred bodies of water, the 1,376km Yamuna River flows through the Himalayan foothills, passes through Delhi, and joins the Ganges. Though the river provides three-quarters of Delhi’s water needs and millions of devotees flock here to celebrate annual festivals, the river has been declared ecologically dead. Increased temperatures and toxic waste dumping have choked the incomes of fishermen and put the burden of financial provision on the shoulders of women, many of whom work as maidservants in the nearby suburbs of Noida.

Our Women in Climate Change small grants winner, Richa Singh, tackles how the environmental changes faced by the Yamuna River is impacting women’s daily lives, employment, and livelihood. This is the first of a two-part multimedia series. 

Garbage spreads over the bank of Yamuna, near Kalindi Kunj in Delhi. The depletion of water has left parts of Yamuna River looking like a drain. Though the condition does get better during the monsoon, it still remains one of the most polluted rivers in India. The ever-increasing pollution and change in climate has made the water uninhabitable for many species that once flourished in it.

Fishermen on a routine fishing round. Hoping to earn more, these fishermen migrated with their families from West Bengal to Delhi. Pappan Kashyap, a fisherman who resides near Yamuna says, “There are hardly any fish in Yamuna these days, its better during the monsoon season but still not as it used to be 10 years ago.” Pappan also works as a diver for the police and has fished out many dead bodies. His nephew won the prestigious President’s Award for saving the lives of several children.

Fisherman sell their days’ catch to larger fish markets like Gazipur Mandi. A part-time fisherman says. “I don’t eat the fish I catch, I don’t think they’re good. Have you seen the condition of the water? It is not good for health.”

A day’s catch lying in the boat. Contractor Bhola Kashyap says, “We hire laborers, but because the amount of fish has reduced, laborers from Bihar will leave today and come back in the monsoon season. There aren’t a lot of fish in the summers due to heat. Laborers from Bengal stay back and take up other jobs. The fishermen of Yamuna are not left with many other options but to pursue part-time work. Many of them work as rickshaw pullers near the suburbs of Noida.”

Archana doing her household chores. She works as a maid near the suburbs of Noida. She came to Delhi with her husband 12 years ago, although her husband doesn’t stay with her. According to Archana, her husband doesn’t like it here. He only comes during the monsoon season to catch fish and then goes back to their village in West Bengal. He doesn’t have any other jobs, as he has been sick for some time. The burden of finances has fallen one her shoulders. She has a daughter and three sons, out of which two are married. She even sends back money to her husband.

Archana cooking lunch with her grandchildren. She comes home around 2 pm after her morning work. She then cooks lunch and does other household work which includes washing clothes, cleaning, bathing, feeding her grandkids, and bathing them. She then goes back to work at 5pm again and comes back home at around 8pm. In the small colony where she lives, all the women work as maids. Their children play and stay together, though there is no one to look after them until 2pm.

Vimal cooking inside his house. He is a fish seller in the afternoon and rickshaw puller by night. Vimal cooks lunch while his wife works. His wife’s income really helps them in running their home as the fish business doesn’t get him enough money. He sometimes cannot buy fish when the rates are high.

Vimal tying a plastic sheet to a rickshaw at a wholesale fish market in Noida. He makes bags out of the plastic sheets, fills them with water, and then keeps the fish in it. He couldn’t buy any fish that day because the rates were too high and returned home empty-handed. According to him, the rates will increase  as the quantity of fish gone down. It will better in the monsoon season again. People do not buy fish from the Yamuna as it is not fit to eat. This is why he buys fish from a bigger wholesale market and not from the sellers near the Yamuna.

Wholesale sellers at the fish market in Noida. They buy the fish from different sources and one of them is Ghazipur Mandi.

Living fish flutter inside the net. According to the fishermen, living fish are costlier than the dead ones. No one wants to buy dead fish.

About the journalist

Richa Singh is a Filmmaker and a Visual Anthropologist based out of Delhi, India. She has worked with India’s leading news agencies before and completed her masters in Visual Anthropology from Goldsmiths, University of London. Her recent film ‘Stranded’ has been screened at MAVIS Film Screening in London and is due for screening at Royal Anthropological Institute, London. Richa has been actively working on women issues and hopes to do more research work on the impact of climate change on women.

Lily Jamaludin

About Lily Jamaludin

Lily Jamaludin is a Malaysian writer and researcher. Previously, she helped design education opportunities for stateless youth in Borneo, and assisted in eviction-prevention initiatives in the Bronx. She’s excited to mobilise more young writers from developing countries to influence national debate around climate change.