Varanasi (or Benaras), the spiritual capital of India, hosts millions of tourists every year. A majority of these tourists visit the city to bathe in the Ganges. Ironically, the river that is considered holy is a polluted health hazard. The ghats (or wide steps on river banks) of Ganges are also highly polluted with plastic, myriad offerings, flowers, and even excreta!
Temsutula Imsong decided to get the matter into her own hands. Imsong, 34, hails from Nagaland and is the co-founder of Sakaar Sewa Samiti. She pursued a solid waste management course in 2016 and has been actively cleaning up the Varanasi ghats since 2013.
One of the objectives of her NGO Sakaar is to ensure all-round development of rural areas. Keeping this target in mind and affected by the filth she witnessed in Varanasi, Imsong decided to clean up the ghats.
Imsong told Live Mint, “We called it Mission Prabhu Ghat, and it took us three days to clean it up. We did a lot of crowdsourcing too, asking locals, be it, students or residents, to join us — and they did.”
The work in Varanasi began in 2013, one ghat at a time. But the beginning wasn’t as smooth as the support they received later.
“One day, these boys and girls appeared and started cleaning the ghats. They met a lot of resistance from local people, but they persisted. We remember this girl, especially since she looked different from the rest. We were told she is from Nagaland. People who live in Benaras did not care about the ghats, so it warmed our hearts to see people from other cities clean them” Babua, from Babua Pandey Ghat, told the Times of India.
The responsibility of the ghats has now shifted to the Municipal Corporation, but the efforts that Imsong and her team put in in these three years are not lost on the locals. Prime Minister Modi met Imsong twice when she began the cleaning and has applauded her work at Varanasi.
Gunjan, whose boat is anchored near the ghat, told TOI, “We have never seen the ghats this clean. People would not even walk by earlier, let alone sit there. Now it is so clean that people come and sit around…”
“In all these years in Benaras, I have seen massive and positive changes,” Imsong tells TOI. She has now shifted her stream of work, and conducts workshops with students from class 6 to 12 in two schools, teaching them about waste generation and recycling. She is also working on enlisting families who compost at home and within a year itself, she aims at engaging 2,000 homes.