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.

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