Blast Threatens Ghat Livelihoods

Small businesses on the Varanasi ghats threatened eviction in the name of security. On 7th December, terrorists struck at the heart and soul of Gunjan's city, the Varanasi Ghats. The bomb which went off during the Ganga Arti - a daily lamplit prayer ritual on the banks of the Ganges -  killed a little girl and injured around 30 other people. Gunjan was at the train station when she heard people discussing it and rushed to the site in a state of shock. In the investigations that followed, the police and security forces determined that the people responsible for the attacks had come to the ghats by boat. In the interest of security, they began to plan the removal of all boats and small businesses from the ghats, potentially affecting many thousands of people who depend on the ghats for their livelihood. "I know many of the faces who work there because I've been going there since I was a child. We used to go and take baths. I still go to the ghats with my friends, or to say prayers. It is part of our life. If they took away these people's business, the soul of Varanasi would be destroyed. No one would come here anymore," says Gunjan. The boatsmen's union staged a protest. The barbers, however, were not unionised and could not participate in the protest effectively. They were constantly being harassed by the police. So Gunjan got together with some of her friends and fellow activists, and assisted the barbers in mobilising themselves and forming a union. They subsequently joined the protest. Gunjan informs us that the District Collector has decided to stay the eviction orders.  She suggests that to improve the security situation, the police should collaborate with the people who work on the ghats. "They know each other, they know who comes and goes," she explains. "They are the best people to keep their eyes out and notice if something is wrong, not the police who are brought from outside."

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