Indigenous communities in Dera Ismail Khan have mobilised to raise awareness about pollution in River Indus
akistan is an agricultural country that relies heavily on irrigation. River Indus is the backbone of this irrigation system. Due to unplanned urbanisation, the river is now facing pollution and degradation. Untreated waste from nearby areas adds to the pollution on a daily basis. Global warming and climate change have also impacted the quality and quantity of the river water. Seen from its bank in Dera Ismail Khan, the river now looks more like a sewage drain than a body of fresh water.
Indus River catchment and delta constitute South Asia’s largest ecosystem. It sustains millions of human lives, as well as plant, animal, bird and insect species. Climate experts suggest that engaging local communities in preserving the environment is the best way to maintain these ecosystems. While concrete action by the government is awaited, an annual event in Dera Ismail Khan aims to do just that.
Indus Love Day, as it is called, is a unique event of its kind. On the 23rd of March every year, people from all walks of life, ethnicities and religious backgrounds gather at the bank of the Indus to symbolically protest against the government’s inaction towards its degradation. They do this by throwing roses into the river as a gesture of healing. The event was started by a local literary and cultural organisation called Sapat Sindhu Silhar. The initiative was led by Saeed Akhtar Sial, a local writer, scholar and intellectual, who passed away in 2021.
The event has been incorporated into the fabric of local traditions over the past few years. The participants sport seraiki ajrak prints and flock to the banks of the Indus. The procession begins at Imamia Gate, in the heart of the city, and the walk winds its course to the beat of traditional drums. Both pashtun and seraiki residents of the city participate in the event wholeheartedly.
The seraiki wasaib has thrived on the banks of Indus for centuries. Most of the indigenous seraiki population is reliant in some way on the river for their livelihood. This explains why their culture is heavily focused on love for the environment and nature. Preserving and recognising such cultures is very important for the survival of ecosystems.
Once the procession reaches the riverbank, petals and flowers are thrown in the flowing water. The participants sit around the river and discuss ways to curb the worsening pollution. The event is a form of peaceful protest. One of the main demands of the organisers is the installation of treatment plants to reduce the river’s pollution level. Their slogan translates to, “throw flowers in the river, not trash.”
The seraiki wasaib has thrived on the banks of Indus for centuries. Most of the seraiki population in the area is reliant in some way on the river for their livelihood. This explains why their culture is heavily focused on love for the environment and nature. Recognising and preserving such cultural practices is very important for the survival of ecosystems.
This year, the event was celebrated for the first time without its pioneer, the late Saeed Akhtar Sial. The participants commemorated his intellectual and literary services. Muaz Arain, the Seraiki Qaumi Tehreek chairman, told The News on Sunday, “Saeed sahib was a beacon of light. We are gathered here today to remember him, and follow in his footsteps in loving our land and River Indus. We will never give up on preserving our landscape.”
Ramish Ali Sial, son of Saeed Akhtar Sial, says, “My father wished that the festival should continue to grow even after his passing. Amidst constant urbanisation, it is very important to take care of natural resources. We appeal to the government to install treatment plants on the Indus river to help with pollution control.”
Women were especially active in this year’s festival. Addressing the gathering, speakers emphasised the impact of climate disasters on women.
Amidst governmental neglect and carelessness, events such as this can help raise awareness among the masses on critical issues. Climate change is a serious problem that must be addressed before it is too late.
The writer is a freelance graphic designer. He tweets @Ehteysham1