Christian priests join save Ganga Campaign on a different note
Creating awareness to change mentality.
A group of around 50 volunteers from the Christian community accompanied by social and cultural activists expressed their solidarity with the Hindus in a unique way but on a different note by carrying out a cleanliness drive on the Ganga.
In the city of Varanasi, there was an unusual movement to save river Ganga on Tuesday 17 April. An attempt to wake up Prime Minsiter Manmohan Singh chairing a meeting of the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) in Delhi, with Pranab Mukherjee, the Finance Minister, Jayanti Natarajan, the Minister for Environment and Forests, chief ministers of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand and other civil society activists (seven from Varanasi).
The people of Varanasi called for a ‘Ganga Mahakumbh’ on 17 April asking people to take a dip in the polluted waters of river Ganga as a protest against the disinterest of the Government and as an appeal to NGRBA. The business community, educators and other people of Varanasi responded by calling a successful Varanasi Bandh. Thousands of devotees of Ganga flocked to the river to have the dip.
Under the leadership of Father Anand and Father Dilraj of the Indian Missionary Society, the volunteers got into filthy water with their spades, brooms and baskets for a massive cleanliness drive. The campaign began at Kedar Ghat where hundreds of Hindu sadhus, priests and civilians were sitting on satyagraha.
After a common prayer along with people of other religious faiths, the Christian volunteers picked up garbage consisting of polythene bags, left over ritual materials, old dirty clothes, glass pieces etc. Catholic priests, Protestant pastors, religious sisters, students of theology and philosophy, Christian laity from various churches and cultural and social activists belonging to Hindu and Muslim faiths cleansed 700 meters long stretch covering five ghats. (River Ganga flows through 84 ghats in Kashi, the most ancient living city of the world.) They transported the garbage by a boat to the other side of the river and dumped them far away from human habitation.
Shri Pramod Manjhi, president of the boatmen’s association was standing with folded hands inside the river from dawn to dusk as a tapasya (austere practice). Similarly some others were performing buddhi-shuddhi yagna (ritual sacrifice for a sound mind) for the national leaders. Everyone of them wanted the government to act.
Fr. Anand told this reporter that he is convinced that Ganga can be cleaned only with the cooperation of the local people. For this, there is a need of mass awareness among the local people, the pilgrims and the priests.
Much of the filth is caused due to the materials used for rituals. The pujaris (priests) and others involved in arati and other ritualistic acts have to change their mentality, said Fr. Anand.
The volunteers distributed copies of a leaflet containing 10 appeals to the administration and the civilians appealing for a new mindset. The appeal challenged the traditional practice of pushing five types of dead bodies to float in the river. They are the bodies of children below five years, pregnant women, people who die of snake bite, chicken pox and white-leprosy (with the hope of their coming to life by the grace of Mother Ganga).
The bodies of sages are immersed into the river as a sign of respect. Similarly in the two burning ghats, the doms (those who burn the dead bodies) push away mass of burning human flesh into the river saying it is an offering for the tortoise god. Scientific research has proved that due to these superstitious practices, there is a deep crisis of oxygen in Ganga water in Kashi. The so-called holy Ganga water has become most “unholy”.
The cleanliness campaign received an unprecedented support from various sectors. Father Dilraj and Father Abhishek of Asmita, a centre working in the city for the welfare of the rag pickers, domestic workers, migrants and children in distress, came along with the activists of Childline. They belonged to various faiths.
Artistes of Prerana Kala Manch, a cultural activists’ group headed by Fr. Anand sang songs and raised slogans for an Aviral Ganga, Nirmal Ganga (uninterrupted and clean Ganges) to flow from Gangotri to Gangasagar
Three pastors from the protestant churches along with a dozen of their faithful too joined the campaign. Fr. Prem Antony, Rector of Vishwa Jyoti Gurukul an institute of Philosophy, Fr. Jerome, Rector of the regional theologate and Advocate Surendra Charan, a well known Christian lawyer of the city expressed their opinion that this is a great service and should be regularly performed. Students of Theology and Philosophy too labored hard.
Boatmen and some leaders of Hindu organizations who watched the entire event expressed their pleasant surprise that Christian priests are giving lead to a unique campaign of cleanliness and awareness when most others are spending their energy in criticizing the government and administration.
At the end of the five hour long cleanliness drive, Father Anand, along with Brothers Prashant, John Britto and the artistes of Prerna Kala Manch had a dip in the river. Fr. Anand said that he is not bathing for forgiveness of his sins, as he does not have such a faith, but he takes the risk of bathing in the “unholy waters” of the holy river as a tapasya (mortification), praying for the holiness and sanctity of the river to return and also for the forgiveness of the sins of all those industrialists and others who cause industrial and non-organic pollution.
Meanwhile the people of Varanasi were disappointed that NGRBA meeting in Delhi that did not bring any concrete results. The central Government has thrown the ball in to the court of the state governments, saying the states are not utilizing the funds allotted for cleaning Ganga. Leaders of Varanasi have called for a national movement to press their demands for a constant flowing and clean Ganga.
Gangeshwar Mishra, an advocate says “we are determined to work for the cleanliness of mother Ganga.”
Bernie, a British tourist, “Ganges is polluted. I appeal to the people of the local area to keep Ganges clean.”
Pastor Shivpal: “this is a small scale campaign. It should grow like wild fire. There should be uninterrupted water flow.”
Pastor Dasharath Pawar: Ganga is a symbol of national integrity. I appeal to the government and people here keep Ganga clean and uphold its sanctity.”
Source: CRI-Ajesh IMS