When Is a River A Person? When It’s the Ganges

Thursday May 03, 2018 Written by Sam Wilson

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If a corporation can be considered a ‘person’ in a legal sense, then why not a sacred river that sustains more than 500 million people? In March 2017, India’s Uttarakhand High Court granted the Ganges River and its tributary the Yamuna ‘legal personhood’ – ‘with all corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person’ – in an effort to protect them from further pollution. 

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Both rivers are in dire straits, choked with sewage, trash, by-products from riverbank funeral pyres, chemicals and pesticides. But their newfound personhood means that anyone caught polluting them will be subject to the same consequences as if they’d harmed a human being. Only the Whanganui River in New Zealand and Colombia’s Atrato River share similar legal rights. 

During a journey along the 2,510km-length of the Ganges last year, Australian photographer Lachie Carracher was struck by the “contradiction of love" he felt for this river. Case in point? Wearing shoes in or near the Ganges is considered akin to trampling on your mother’s head – but flushing untreated waste into its water doesn’t raise an eyebrow. 

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Capturing the Ganges’ diverse landscapes and local populations, Carracher’s photos reveal a living entity that’s vital to, and revered by, the humans with whom it coexists. Not many corporations can make that claim.

Lachie’s exhibition Ganga is on now at Rokeby Gallery in Collingwood.

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Photography: Lachie Carracher