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Turning To God Could Actually Solve North India’s Toxic Smog Problem

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It was a typical summer day at Punjab’s Sultanpur Lodhi railway station. It was a hot and humid day in June 2016.

A group of volunteers were working under the sun, in an open space adjacent to the railway station. Their sleeves and pant-legs were rolled-up. They were determined and were clearing the solid human waste accumulated there over the years. By the evening, their hard work started reflecting, as local people from the area arrived for an evening walk.

The cleanup drive was called by Baba Seechewal. And this is just a small side-story of the Kali Bein river project, started by the Ek Onkar Charitable Trust of Baba Seechewal. Baba Seechewal aka Eco Baba is the face of the revival of a 160km long Kali Bein river in Doab region of Punjab.

The nearby villages were always there, watching the river die slowly. But what motivated them to step knee-deep into the wastewater, and create a temporary barrage to divert the wastewater to a nearby treatment plant suddenly? What drove them to clean the piled up human waste and dirt, whose smell and site they could not stand?

The answer to this question is – religion!

The philosophy of ‘one universal God’, first emerged at the Sultanpur Lodhi at the banks of Kali Bein. Its the site of first Gurbani by the first Sikh guru, Guru Nanak Dev. Hence the site becomes the first pilgrimage for the followers of Guru Nanak Dev.

Delhi NCR is suffocating under a thick blanket of smog. The air quality has dipped down to dangerous levels. The presence of particulate matter is extremely high. It is not a new problem for northern states of India, but every coming year its magnitude is increasing.

In the wake of this hazardous situation, the Supreme Court of India put a ban on the sale of crackers. Since the SC decision came just before the grand Hindu festival – Diwali, as expected, the decision observed criticism from many right-wing leaders, thinkers and traditionalist Hindus.

If we observe the social evolution of humans, we learnt agriculture much earlier than we started practising religion. There are many proofs that our festivals were a celebration of nature more than the religion.

Whether it is Holi, Diwali, Sankranti, Lohdi or any other festival, with it can be observed that the offerings made to the gods on Hindu festivals are mostly eatables made from the grains of the new crop. The idea of making an offering to nature was simply based on “Tera tujhko arpan, kya laage mera.” This means, “Oh mother nature! I offer to you whatever I reap from you. Nothing is mine, it all belongs to you.”

The Hindu rituals and traditions always had a greater focus on ‘mother nature.’ It was just a few hundred years ago when the market took over religion and started dictating its terms on the festivities. Just observe the gifts that we now return to mother nature on our festivals, it’s – smoke, chemicals and synthetic materials that clog the rivers!

This situation demands a review of rituals and activities that we perform as celebrations. The priests, gurus and sadhus need to rethink our traditions. Did the residents of Ayodhya firecrackers, when Shri Ram returned? No. Then why are our sentiments on cracker-ban hurt?

In the oldest Hindu scriptures, the “Vedas”, there are detailed descriptions of Hindu gods. Symbolically, these gods are representative of nature, for example – Varun (sky), Vayu (air), Indra (rain), etc. We are primarily nature-worshippers, but are we doing it today? And, where are our godmen? I believe they are too busy, arranging for a party ticket for the 2019 elections. And we, the common people, are helping them nurture their political dreams by taking sides and shielding them from criticism.

Religion has a mass appeal which no other institution has. Then why not utilise it for a greater purpose, instead of creating foot soldiers for achieving political ambitions? Smoke from stubble-burning in paddy fields is the prime reason for smog. The leftover straw from the paddy crop is practically useless. Technical solutions to this problem are available, but they are too costly for a common farmer.

The kind of funds required for using technical solutions can be procured very easily by any religious organisation. The unifying powers of religion are often neglected. Even the journalists don’t prefer writing on religious issues.

Senior journalist A. J. Philip writes in his article “God Is Back”, “Most editors are wary of touching religion. They are so scared of offending religious sensibilities that they prefer to ignore subjects they think have religious connotations. In doing so, they prove unequal to the task of providing enlightened opinion on many subjects which have religious undertones.”

In a country like India, which has a pride in its religious plurality, its impossible to ignore religion. If pursued rightly, religion has a solution to many modern day problems.

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  1. raghu 27

    I really appreciate your perception towards Delhi smog but you cant ignore vehicles and industries for major cause .You only show one thing or we can say one day event ‘diwali’ to major problem like smog or climate change.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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