Rivers have been revered in India since time immemorial, and if we look back on ancient civilisations, we will find substantial evidence of almost every human settlement having thrived along the banks of one river or the other.
Yet, the water bodies today—having been ceaselessly abused over centuries with garbage and toxic effluents—are a far cry away from even providing potable water let alone being objects of reverence.
Along the town of Maholi in Sitapur district of Uttar Pradesh, passes a river called Kathina which has also been carrying the burden of human abuse over its banks for decades.
Interestingly, the town is probably one of the few places in the state where people practising different religious faiths coexist harmoniously, and religious institutions like Hindu temples, the Pragyana Satsang ashram, and a mosque, are all situated quite close to one another.
The temple and mosque were both built in 1962 by the then Inspector Jaikaran Singh, and share common premises near the Maholi police station.
The people of the town have been more than accepting of each other’s beliefs. While the ashram switches off its loudspeakers during namaaz every day, it is the mosque committee that comes forward to help the temple with arrangements during Hindu festivals and special occasions.
Kathina has been flowing through the periphery of this melting pot of religious beliefs, and its deteriorating condition began to worry the religious heads.
“The river belongs to everyone. Hindus use it for ‘aachman’ (a Hindu ritual for spiritual purification), and Muslims use it for ‘wazu’ or ablutions. Due to lack of awareness, people had been dumping solid and biowaste here and also doing open defecation. The situation was worsening. The only solution was to start cleaning it ourselves,” said Swami Vigyananad Saraswati, head of the Pragyana Satsang Ashram, reports NDTV.
Once the ashram and temple administration started assembling volunteers for the cleanup, even the mosque and gurudwara committee came forward to lend their support. This communal collaboration increased the manpower, which in turn helped speeding up the cleaning drive significantly.
According to Swami, the initiative has firmly cemented their bonding, besides paving the way for environmental awareness and the fact that good things happen when people irrespective of their backgrounds unite.
The cleanup commenced on March 14 and is still underway; it took the volunteers three long days to clear the banks of the river of excrement. About 400 of the volunteers stepped down to the waters, while other 700 worked along the shores.
Several mounds of garbage including plastic, polythene, shoes, rubber, animal carcasses, human waste, glass and ceramic waste, and even an old boat wreck were taken out of the river. The volunteers also removed truckloads of water hyacinth that had invaded into the river and was obstructing the flow of water.
For the members of Sikh gurdwara committee, the river cleaning operation was equivalent to ‘seva,’ an essential tenet of Sikhism that requires one to serve their community. “Keeping our rivers clean is our duty and we will continue seva whenever required,” Ujagar Singh, one of the members said.
One of the major difficulties faced by the volunteers involved stopping people from defecating or throwing waste at all times. Lack of toilets and proper waste management system in Maholi were the primary reasons.
Because ‘mandir-masjid’ together were batting for the cause, the volunteers were able to convince people to cooperate easily, added Muhammad Haneef, head of the mosque’s managing committee.
However, what the river crusaders envision is a proper garbage management system for their small town and adequate support from local administration to keep people away from littering the river again. As of now, they have managed to clean a 1-km stretch and aim to clear another kilometre in the second phase, for which they would require desilting machines.
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“The challenge is to maintain the cleanliness level of the river. We could clean only a small stretch this time, but we will rally again and take the movement to the second phase once we get directions from our elder brother Swami Ji,” said Abdul Rauf from the mosque committee.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)