Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hindus and rivers

Geetika forwarded me this news item about how Baba Balbir Singh Seechewal successfully cleaned the sacred river Kali Bein in Punjab. Even though I had read about this amazing feat some time back, the news item got me thinking.

Ganga, Yamuna, Gomti are all sacred rivers for the Hindus. Some Hindus might not admit it but if we are to look at statistics and the various census results, Hindus are a majority community comprising about 80.5 per cent of the population. As per estimates on 10 March 2008, India is a 1.13-billion strong nation and comprises approximately one-sixth of the world's population. Worldwide, Hindus number about 900 million or 14 per cent of the world population.

Time and again some individuals and organizations, religious and political, shout on the tops of their voices, “Be proud of the fact that you are a Hindu!” But look at the state of our most revered rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Gomti. For a Hindu, I think it is hardly a matter of pride that even as he/she goes about his/her daily tasks, he does so without a thought for what has been done to these rivers. We take life insurance for our future, we save money for our children but are actually intellectually challenged not to understand the fact that without water there is no life and these three rivers supply the bulk of the water to the northern and eastern parts of the country.

Hindus must take ownership for these rivers. Why I use the word ‘Hindu’ time and again is because Hindus are in majority, and it is the privilege of the majority to lead the way. In much the same way as the world looks to the U.S.A. in world matters. Water is the essence of our life and if we still don’t get it, then future generations (if they come) will certainly not be proud of us!

Enclosed below is the news item.
Time magazine describes the environmentalist and holy man from Punjab as "the Sikh who cleans the corrupted rivers of India," listing him among a group of distinguished individuals around the world hailed for their passion and resourcefulness in confronting threats facing the environment
Baba Balbir Singh Seechewal's success in transforming the sacred river Kali Bein, in Punjab, from a filthy drain to a picnic spot has won him a place of honour among Time magazine's 30 environment heroes from around the world.
Other prominent Time environment heroes are Brazil's Marina Silva, godmother of the rain forest, Germany's Joachim Luther, godfather of solar power, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the 'green' governor of California, and billionaire venture capitalist John Doerr who funds green projects.
Time describes Baba Seechewal as "the man who set out to clean up the mess" at the Kali Bein that stretches 160 km in Punjab's Hoshiarpur district. The river is sacred to Sikhs as it is linked to Guru Nanak Dev who is believed to have attained enlightenment after taking a dip in it some 500 years ago, before founding Sikhism.
Over the past couple of decades, the Kali Bein had been reduced to a filthy drain due to waste emptied into it by people in six towns and 40 villages along its banks. Parts of the river had dried up, leaving neighbouring farmlands barren. Its polluted waters had also seeped into the ground, contaminating groundwater and spreading disease.
The magazine writes: "In 2000, Seechewal, a Sikh holy man, set out to clean up this mess. Drawing on the Sikh tradition of kar sewa (voluntary service) he and his followers taught locals why they should clean up the Kali Bein, enlisting volunteers to do the physical work and raising funds for equipment… The scale of the task was gigantic -- volunteers cleared the entire riverbed of water hyacinth and silt, and built river banks and roads alongside the river."
At the height of his movement, people from over two dozen villages took part although, in the initial stages, the local government refused to heed his call. Baba Seechewal met with NRIs who took up the cause and raised funds, writes the magazine.
As the riverbed began to be cleared, natural springs revived and the river began to fill up. Since then, trees have been planted along its banks and fishing has been banned to preserve biodiversity. Today, the Kali Bein is a picnic spot for people and devotees who bathe in the river during religious festivals.
Baba Seechewal says he owes his achievements to support from the villagers. He adds: "We are turning our sights on tanneries and other factories that dispose of untreated waste into rivers. It is time to do that on a bigger scale." He is also leading efforts to get residents and the government to clean up rivers and creeks in a more systematic way across the state. "We have proved that it is possible to restore our rivers to pristine condition if we all come together."
The Punjab government is now keen on pursuing all Baba Seechewal's environment projects. Media advisor to the chief minister, Harcharan Bains, said that the state government strongly advocated a "creative synergy" between the state and various environmental and spiritual movements to save precious resources like water and air.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

FEstival of Lights : May you burn in peace

The festival of lights Deepawali is again with us. I have this feeling deep down within me that we should seriously look at renaming this festival. It should now be called Patekeawali(with the number of crackers that are exploded) or Paiseawali(with the amount of money which is spend, some wisely and a lot unwisely), or it could be called Daruawali or Kharidawali with the amount of liquor which is consumed or the amount of purchases an average family makes.

In Deepawali it is the crackers which affect me the most. They affect me both at a physically as well as the emotionally level. Every time a cracker is lit I think of the money going up in smoke. Money that could be utilized for a poor child’s education. Besides the money it is the environment and the health angle that disturbs me a lot. Here’s why …….

Chemicals Found in Crackers and their affect on Health

Causes increased blood pressure and a disease “Itai – Itai” which makes bones brittle and lead to multiple fractures.
Can damage kidneys and cause anemia

Affects central nervous system
Cancer of lungs and kidneys
Young children can suffer mental retardation and semi permanent brain damage.

Nausea, vomiting, cyanosis, collapse and coma
Fall in blood pressure, rapid pulse, headaches and visual disturbances

Large amounts lead to dizziness, abdominal cramps, vomiting. bloody diarrhoea, weakness, convulsions and collapse.
Increased cancer incidents

Affects upper respiratory tract and bronchi.
May cause edema of the lungs.
Can produce respiratory paralysis

Particles embedded in the skin can produce gaseous blebs and gas gangrene.
Deterioration in the central nervous system.
Main Symptoms of exposure : Sleepiness, weakness, emotional disturbances and paralysis.

Phosphorous in PO4
Affects central nervous system
Acute effect on liver
Severe eye damage

Irritation in respiratory tract
Excess absorption causes “ Wilson’s disease” where excess copper is deposited in the brain, skin, liver, pancreas and middle muscular layer of the heart.

Skin irritant
Effects pulmonary system
Stimulates the sensation of vomiting.

Suspended particulate matter (SPM) exposure to the level of 100 ppm results in headache and reduced mental acuity. The effects are more pronounced in people with heart, lung or central nervous system diseases. Sulphur dioxide is readily soluble and dissolves in the larger airways of the respiratory system. This stimulates a contraction at 2 to 5 parts per million (ppm). At higher concentrations severe contraction restricts the breathing process.

Noise :High decibel level results in restlessness, anger, fidgetiness, impulsive behaviour and over-reaction to situations. Most crackers used have more than 80 dB noise that can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss, high blood pressure, heart attack and sleep disturbances. Children, pregnant women and those suffering from respiratory problems suffer the most due to excessive noise. It results in making them hyperactive or withdrawn.

To study the chemical composition, particularly of metallic and non-metallic components of crackers, Toxics Link got some samples of sparklers ("phuljari" in Hindi and "mathappu" in Tamil) and pots ("anar" in Hindi and "pusvanam" in Tamil) analysed at the Bombay Natural History Society Laboratory, Mumbai. The following were the chief findings of the laboratory tests.

The results showed presence of highly toxic heavy metals like cadmium and lead in addition to other metals like copper, manganese, zinc, sodium, magnesium and potassium in the fire-crackers.

Both nitrates and nitrites of few of these metals were present. Both these radicals are oxidising agents that are a ready source of oxygen in the process of combustion.
Oxides of sulphur in the form of sulphate and phosphorous in the form of phosphate were present in the samples. The mean levels of cadmium in the crackers analysed were 5.2 mg/100g. Anar and wire showed 6 and 8mg/100g, respectively.

The mean level of lead was 462 mg/100g with a maximum in green sparkle showing 850mg/100g. Magnesium was found in huge quantities when compared to other metals like copper, manganese and zinc. The mean levels of magnesium was 2622mg/100g and of copper was 744mg/100g. Zinc was the least among the various metals detected with a mean level of 324mg/100g.

Four acidic radicals --nitrate, nitrite, phosphate and sulphate-- were also detected. The proportion of nitrite, phosphate and sulphate in the crackers was almost similar and ranged between 1160 to 1420 mg/100gm, while nitrates which are strong oxidising agents, were found in considerable amounts when compared to the other three. Their mean levels were 1624mg/100g.

Among these, oxides of sulphur, phosphorous and nitrogen are very corrosive and highly acidic while carbon monoxide, one of the oxides of carbon is an extremely poisonous gas whose presence cannot be detected by our sensory system as it is odorless.

Carbon monoxide combines more than 200 times as readily as oxygen, so that low concentration levels have adverse health effects.
So guys burn not only your pockets, the ozone layer but also your heart, lungs and kidneys as mine are anyway in smoke.