Enviroligious leaders must join hands

When a river is as revered as India’s Ganga (I find it hard to call it by its anglicised name), one struggles to understand why it is so polluted.

Perhaps it is because the reverence only exists at an abstract level. When a corrupt government official gives a no-objection certificate to the setting up of a polluting plant on the banks of the Ganga, reverence is the last thing on his mind. When a tannery releases its effluents into the river, its managers do not worry about the people who will bathe in its waters as a part of rituals. When one heads towards the nearest McDonalds, he will certainly not wonder about how much water was used to produce beef or where the water used in processing went.

I have always wondered why religious and spiritual leaders have not joined hands to speak against environmental pollution. Despite the differences in manner of worship and portrayal of God, the survival of humans on the planet is surely one topic on which all religions can find common ground. Air, water and land are sacred to all faiths. Even atheists may join such an ‘enviroligious’ movement if such a word may be coined.

India, in particular has produced and is still producing a large number of spiritual leaders such as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Bhagwan Rajneesh, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Sathya Sai Baba and others who have followers in several continents. Could they become agents of change to a more eco-friendly world?

In July, Time Magazine reported on one environment-minded chief priest of the 400-year old Sankat Mochan Temple at India’s Varanasi – Veer Bhadra Mishra. A professor of hydraulic engineering at a local university, Mr Mishra, 72, has been pushing for creative ways to clean the Ganga. He has also succeeded in ensuring that devotees do not bathe with soap in the river nor float plastic bottles with marigold offerings into the water as a ritual.

Next month, a well-known grassroots water leader Rajendra Singh is planning to trace the entire path of the Ganga from Gangotri in the Himalayas to its delta in the Bay of Bengal. Along the way, he will address people from all walks of life including religious leaders to encourage them to actively participate in maintaining the flows and purity of the river. He will also visit reputed institutes of technology and management to address students and faculty.

Unless pushed to act by citizens, governments usually avoid tackling ‘inconvenient truths’. Religion might help to give a harder push.

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