What Varanasi wants
Special: mid-day organises a round table of various stakeholders to understand what the ancient city expects from the prime minister
Varanasi: Once known as Anandwan, Varanasi continues to live up to the reputation even now. Here you cannot make out a person's intellect by his attire or avocation. Even a paani-puri seller can make a statement packed with mysticism and debate with a doctorate holder with the confidence of a scholar.
The city is also known for the 102-year-old Banaras Hindu University (BHU), which has produced alumni now spread across the globe. A group of teachers from BHU along with some former students, who have seen many sultry northern summers, spelled out a wish-list for their MP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a chaupal held on mid-day's request. They want Modi to improve his performance in this Lok Sabha segment and not just do things — like the city's makeover — for mere optics. According to them, he should work to preserve, protect and showcase the holy and academic city's heritage to the world in an unprecedented manner. They said that the PM should show political willpower to drive the city further in the years to come.
Professors and ex-students of BHU want Prime Minister Narendra Modi to improve his performance in this Lok Sabha segment and not just do things for mere optics
'It holds on to traditions'
Kicking off the debate, Dr Vashistha Narayan Tripathi, senior professor of the Hindi Department, said the city was modern then and it continues to be so. "But it never abandoned its traditions. We welcome the efforts of making it a smart city, but have concerns regarding it," he said when asked about the objections raised against destroying the city's heritage for its infrastructural development. "Remember, BHU is a one-of-its-kind university in the world. It is the result of the foresight of its founder, Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya," he added. Tripathi lauded the city's unique mix of Hindu-Muslim culture. "People from both the communities work to the best of their abilities in all spheres of life. The city's academic record and culture make it alauakik (one of its kind)," he said.
Professor Vazir Hassan, head of Arabic Studies, endorsed his colleague's observation. "This is a hub of the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb (confluence of the Hindu-Muslim culture). We celebrate Ramzan and Holi together. We are closely-knit and do not do anything to instigate communal violence. Here, you will find both temples and masjids." He further said that it was not easy to influence citizens into extremist activities. "Hawa aati hai aur chali jaati hai (we hear rumours and let them pass without reacting to them). We want peace," he added. But Hassan had a message for Modi. "Development happens where the PM goes, be it roads or ghats. It is not visible everywhere. Development should be all inclusive," he said.
Environment activist and former science student of BHU, Jagnarayan, said the roads in Muslim-dominated areas were laid just ahead of the elections. Challenging Modi's drive to make the Ganga cleaner, the activist said, "I want to see Modi drinking the river's water. It is not potable and people cannot even think of touching it." Jagnarayan, who writes for several periodicals and runs a small stationary shop on the BHU campus, said the Kashi-Vishwanath corridor was the biggest mistake of the Modi and Yogi governments.
'Research facility needed'
Library science and information science professor, Aditya Tripathi, stressed the need of creating a facility under one roof, which would educate students coming from abroad, about the city's culture and heritage. "Kashi is a centre for philosophies, heritage, culture, music, yoga, science, vedic science and what not. I think the city should have a single window that informs students about it. It should be developed in the form of a research facility," he said.
Speaking about the families who have been staying here for generations, he said, "They have books, scriptures and traditional knowledge that can be made available to all. We're a big centre for Indian classical music and dance as well. There are big players in every field but then there are people who are equally talented but do not have the required exposure. This can be possible with the government's help."
Professor Om Prakash, who teaches German at the university, wants a data based centre akin to an online global information centre that can engage people and encourage them to travel to Varanasi for studies. Prof O N Singh, who heads the ancient Indian history and archaeology department, said the city was the capital for many faculties. "It has been a trade centre for centuries. Do you know that the city had a factory of Shivlings? The city is open to new ideas and it endorses what is genuine."
Meanwhile, Professor Pravin Rana of the tourism department, said no government had explored Kashi's tourism potential. "People come here because of their astha (faith). They believe that if they die here, they would get moksha. But not everyone comes here to attain moksha. The city gets devotees as well as tourists who are part of north India's customised tours."
Senior journalist and mass communication teacher Dr Atri Bharadwaja informed that the number of good hotels in the city has increased, especially near the ghats. "Citizens' initiatives have started making an impact," he said. However, quoting from a tourism survey that his department had commissioned some time ago, Professor Rana said, "Work is definitely on but it is not enough. The electricity wires have gone underground and parts of the city get cleaned regularly. Boundary walls of houses have been painted in an attractive manner."
Heritage walks in limbo
He further said that the Kashi-Vishwanath corridor could be a boon for devotees, as it would bring down their waiting time. But according to him, the real issue was the opposition they face from professional guides to conduct heritage walks in the city. "The guides do not allow us to conduct heritage walks fearing loss of their business. I think people who want information about the city based on facts should not be denied the opportunity," he added.
Dr Ramagya Shashidhar, who teaches at BHU, met us later in the evening at the Assi Ghat Road's famous 'Pappu Ki Adi' and shared his perspective on certain issues that matter too. "All the rivers here all polluted. The city ranks third in the country in terms of air pollution. It does not even have the number of trees that it should have. Migration from other states is a major issue here. Will the government take a look at these problems for once?' he asked. He further said that Varanasi had five universities but the city's academic quality hadn't improved the way it should have. "Since the Ramnagar industrial belt is defunct, people find it difficult to get jobs. Crime rate has increased because of joblessness."
The university's former student Manish Tiwari, 28, who is currently jobless, asked, "Who gets the benefit of the schemes and jobs that the government claims to create. Here I am, a post-graduate and a living example of government apathy."
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