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Religious rituals play major part in India's river pollution

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 10th, 2014
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

India's chief source of water, its more than 400 rivers, is swiftly becoming unsafe for both drinking and bathing. While industrial pollution plays a major part in this worrying trend, religious rituals associated with Hinduism is also playing an import role. The disposal of cremated bodies into rivers and the dunking of statues are all making a lot of India's waterways toxic.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Statues of Hindu gods, flowers, pots and ashes are thrown into Indian rivers daily without a thought. Several Hindu rituals make it mandatory for people to use rivers as a vital component.

A highlight of several major Hindu Indian festivals, statues dunked into the waterways feature paint and decorations not environmentally friendly. This pollutes the rivers, which in turn affects the flora and fauna. Throughout the months of September and October, thousands of statues are immersed.

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Hinduism also declares that it is mandatory to cremate the dead and scatter their ashes in a river. Hindus believe the dead will not attain salvation if the last remains are not immersed.

Another Hindu practice includes floating the corpses of holy men, pregnant women, people with leprosy or chicken pox, people bitten by snakes, those who commit suicide, the poor and children below five years old in the water in order to decompose.

"Earlier, if a body was floated in the river, it was consumed by crocodiles, but these days there are no crocodiles left in rivers because of the pollution. So these dead bodies only add to the filth and pollution in the river," Rajender Singh says. Singh has been campaigning for the cleaning of several small and big rivers in the country for more than 30 years.

"There is not a single river in the country that is without pollution," Singh says, who is also known by the mimicker of "the Waterman of India." "The rivers these days have become sewage canals that carry our filth."

Various groups have since risen up to battle this practice. One of them is Yamuna Network, a nonprofit coalition of like-minded organizations and individuals whose sole purpose is to stop the Yamuna River from being diverted and to prevent waste from entering into it.

"On the one hand rivers are revered by us," he said, "and on the other, we have no problem in putting all our rubbish into them." Convener Manoj Mishra says.

Mishra is very much aware of the cultural weight that the organization seeks to change. "It is not easy to change people's mentality overnight," Mishra says. "The government needs to provide them alternatives like creating immersion sites for religious ceremonies near rivers."

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