An environmentalist from Uttar Pradesh is on a year-long cycling tour of the country. His mission? To spread the message of a Swachh Bharat – a cleaner country. This is how he’s doing it.
Sixteen states, approximately 10,000 villages, and more than 14,300 kms — this sums up the journey of Abhishek Kumar Sharma so far. A 28-year-old environmental research scholar, Abhishek is currently on a year-long cycling tour of India. His reason for being on the road for the past ten months is indeed unique.
This Uttar Pradesh resident wants to spread the message of cleanliness, hygiene and sanitation among common citizens all over the country.
And since spreading awareness is not something that can be done from the comfort of one’s home, he is doing it from the ground level up.
“I saw that our Prime Minister has started such a big campaign. More than anything else, I look at the campaign as a very big opportunity for all of us to create a cleaner and better India,” says Abhishek, who started the cycle tour after being inspired by the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
A post graduate in environmental science, Abhishek has about three years of work experience as a researcher in solid waste management. Armed with all the knowledge that he had gathered through his research work and education, Abhishek decided that he could use it to educate other people too, and make them more aware about the importance of and urgent need for a cleaner country. Thus, after quitting his job and failing to make his family understand why he wanted to do this, Abhishek set out on his journey on Nov. 10, 2014.
He calls it the ‘Uncertain Journey: Cycling across India for Change.’
The first step, even before the journey started, was to modify his bicycle. It is now equipped with an LED light, a poster with his name and phone number, an Indian flag, a flag that talks about his mission, a bottle carrier, and a carrier for his luggage. He started his journey from his hometown, Fategarh, in UP. After that he went on to cover the states of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh, Delhi, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Daman and Diu, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, and Kerala. And now, Abhishek is in Tamil Nadu.
“I am trying to change the mindsets of people, because unless the mindsets are changed, we will not be able to make our country healthy. This is my moral responsibility for India and I am fulfilling it,” says the passionate young man. And for this purpose, he has decided to dedicate a year of his life to a campaign for Swachh Bharat, choosing a bicycle as a medium to promote the benefits of cycling as well. “It is very good for health and also for the environment,” he points out. He will conclude his journey in November 2015, and he aims to cover a distance of 20,000 kms by then.
Throughout his travels, Abhishek focuses on speaking to as many people as possible, students being his priority.
In the states that he has covered till now, Abhishek has spoken to students in about 3,000 schools, colleges, and universities. He talks about the importance of everyday personal hygiene and cleanliness and its impact on society, the economy, environment, and psychology.
He also tries to arrange meetings with people at influential positions, and those who are responsible for keeping the country clean at the government level, such as MLAs, MPs, district collectors, mayors, etc.
“As an environmentalist, I share with them a printed document which contains information on how this filth spread throughout the country is harming us all, and I request them to take adequate steps,” says Abhishek.
Cycling for about 80-100 km in a day, depending upon the weather, Abhishek also talks to people at public spaces like bus stops, railway stations, and civil hospitals. One of the many important things on his agenda is to provide information on how people can take up alternatives to various polluting habits that we follow on a daily basis, like recycling of garbage, ways to dispose of plastic waste, etc.
“Suppose I stop at a tea stall where tea is being served in plastic cups. At such places I talk to the stall owners about alternatives to plastic cups, and the kind of harm they are doing to the environment,” explains Abhishek.
Every time Abhiskek goes through a village, he conducts sessions which he calls Saaf Safai ki Chaupal. Sitting with the villagers, he speaks about different issues like construction of toilets, the harmful effects of open defecation, the need for sanitation facilities in schools, effects of clean surroundings on the health of villagers, and a lot more.
This is accompanied by a unique exercise which he calls the ‘psychological magical poster.’ He asks everyone he meets, talks to, or stays with, to make hand-drawn posters with the message – ‘Do not litter anywhere. Keep your surroundings clean.’ People are then asked to sign the posters with their names and affix photographs, and to put them up in their offices and homes. These posters have a psychological impact on people’s mindsets, according to Abhishek, and can help make them more responsible.
Abhishek calls his journey “uncertain” because he does not have a fixed itinerary or a plan for which city or state will be his next destination.
The only rule he has is that he will not repeat places where he has already gone once. “I am following my own mind. I am not taking anyone’s orders. So I go to different places based on my own free will. Right now, the only thing I know is that I am in Madurai, and that is all.”
As his bicycle is very attractive, with all the flags and posters, Abhishek usually finds himself surrounded by people wanting to know who he is and what he is doing. And once they know why he travelling across the country, everyone is willing to help. According to this extraordinary cyclist, it is because of the graciousness of people that he has been able continue in spite of having very limited funds.
“I started with my own savings, but all along the way I have met people who are more than willing to provide me with food and shelter without asking any questions. I also have a donation box, in which people pitch in as much as they want. This helps me sustain myself,” says a grateful Abhishek.
Does he expect the country to change completely based on this one journey? No. But he knows that there will be some impact, no matter how small. And some of it is already visible.
“I was at the Gujarat border, when I met a person who had read about my journey and was so inspired that he distributed about 5,000 tin box dustbins in his area. Some people I met on the way also sent messages that they have started cycling tours in their own ways. So there will be some impact. At least I am not sitting and complaining about the filth,” he says.
And this journey has not gone unnoticed. In fact, news of it has reached the place where Abhishek got his inspiration from — the Prime Minister’s office.
Abhishek was invited to meet Mr. Narendra Modi. The PM complimented him on this initiative and wished him luck for the future.
This meeting helped Abhishek in many ways because word about his campaign spread far and wide. Now, people who know that he is about to come to their city invite him to conduct training sessions on clean living habits in schools and colleges.
He left his job, the comfort of his home, and the company of his friends and family to take up this campaign.
“My family called this complete madness. They did not support me. But ever since I met the PM, they understand that I am doing something good,” he smiles.
On this journey, Abhishek has also visited more than 190 solid waste management plants in the country. After the completion of the tour, he plans to submit a report on these plants to the PM.
“Every day on the road is a challenge. Each day, I am in a completely new place, among new people. From language to food, everything is different. But people know that I am not doing this for any personal interest. I am doing everything on a voluntary basis, and that is why they help me,” he concludes.
Here’s wishing this cleanliness crusader the very best for his remaining journey. You can contact him by writing at firstname.lastname@example.org.