The Ardh Khumb Mela came to an end on 4th March 2019. It has been nearly a month since it ended and the popular discourse has moved onto other issues – the upcoming elections, the IPL among others. So, this is a good time to look back and objectively reflect on what did the Khumb Mela 2019 really mean.The Khumb is the world’s largest peaceful congregation of people. More than 12 Cr people visited Prayagraj for the Khumb in 2019 – this is twice the population of U.K. For the devout, the dip in the Sangam is important for shedding of all past sins. For the historian, the Khumb is a cultural practice that gives insights about people. A walk in the Khumb with its naga sadhus, makeshift stalls of sindoor, lines of faithful waiting for darshan is a cameraman’s delight. The mela teems with stories of emotion and drama for film-makers. For the locals of Prayagraj, Khumb is a great economic opportunity and a source of traffic and congestion. Either ways, Khumb means something for everyone and evokes strong emotions in people.
It is thought that more than 3 Cr women and children participated in the Khumb. The strong presence of security forces and volunteers helped in creating a safe and dignified experience for them. Optimum use of technology and manpower in a symbiotic manner ensured that there was minimum confusion and disorder. Orderly layout of the Khumb Nagari and well strategized and executed crowd management processes also made it difficult for anti-social elements to operate, thus helping maintain the sanctity of the place. We saw thousands of pilgrims waiting in orderly queues to take the holy dip at the Sangam. The people were laughing, talking and praying patiently in their queues - a welcome change from the commonly seen sight of Indians pushing and jostling each other to move an inch forward. I also realised that Indians do have a civic sense. If sanitation facilities are made available, Indians will use them. A walk in the Khumb nagari grounds was revealing by the absence of cola bottles, juice cartons, chips packets, banana peels and peanut shells…. standard fair at any public ground in India. It was surprising to see people all around, yet no litter on the roads or the camps. It was even more surprising to see the number of dustbins that had been put up, the notices exhorting people to use the bins and the people using them. What a change from a time when public places either didn’t have dustbins or the dustbins were broken with garbage spilling out. The bins were layered with waste bags which were being picked up for regularly for disposal and replaced with new waste bags. Another sight that stood out was the rows of mobile toilets that had been installed for the pilgrims. Over 1.2 lakh eco-friendly toilet facilities had been installed to make this Khumb open defection free. 32 drains that opened in the Ganga were sealed and 3 Sewer Treatment Plants (STPs) were installed along with upgradation of 7 existing STPs. When we were taking a boat ride to the Sangam, our boatman shared some of the cleanliness measures that he had taken – keeping a dustbin in his boat, discouraging pilgrims from disposing plastic in the river etc. The pandit at the Sangam asked us to do a symbolic offering of coconuts and flowers to the river, instead of physically leaving them in the water. Both spoke about the sensitization drives done by the mela authorities to involve the local community in helping improve hygiene levels. It was heartening to see their involvement and commitment. Furthermore, this cleanliness drive did not stop at the mela premises. Prayagraj railway station was clean, despite catering to an increased influx of pilgrims and tourists. There were dustbins installed across the length and breadth of the station, safai karamcharis were busy cleaning the platforms and most importantly, the public was not vandalising or littering the place. Speaking to a few passengers while waiting for our train, I heard them talk about how they should also partner the government in ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’, how train travel experience has improved significantly since the trains are visibly cleaner now, how they now realise that a small change in their behaviour can lead to an significant impact in overall hygiene and cleanliness. A month after the Khumb, I feel that while the government did live up to its ‘Swachh Kumbh, Surakshit Khumb’ promise, it also achieved something else. It made city dwellers like me- people who live in our comfortable, urban silos- take a strong look at ourselves and our prejudices. It made me realise that neither are Indians lacking in civic sense, nor are we a noisy, unruly people. If Khumb melas of the 1970s and 80s were the place where one lost one’s bhai or behen (only to be reunited a few decades later), then the Khumb Mela of 2019 is the place from I (and many like me) came back with a renewed respect for our country and the nameless, faceless people who worked behind the scenes to truly create a divine experience on Earth.
Aditi Kumaria Hingu is a marketing graduate from IIM Calcutta. Currently she works in the corporate sector. She comes from an army background.
Note: The views expressed in the article are of the author's and not of Sify.com.
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