CELEBRATING GANESHOTSAV RESPONSIBLY: HOW THESE CITIZENS CLEANED UP THE ACT

Another year of revelry has gone by, as our favourite festival - Ganesh Chaturthi has come to an end.

The elephant –headed deity is worshipped for about 10 days: a humungous idol made of plaster of paris is taken to the homes of the devotees, and continuous prayers and processions mark the festival.

A sign-off to the festival is farewell celebration for the Ganesh idol, where the idol is taken to the sea and immersed with a routine cheer slogan: "Ganpati bappa morya, purcha varshi laukar ya" (Ganpati Lord, the great, come back soon next year).

Over one lakh such Ganpati idols dot every part of the city, even more so for different parts of India; some as big as 2 feet tall, many others as huge as 15 feet tall.

Lakhs of such Ganpati idols are immersed in the sea, which wash up on the shore. The idol often contains toxic and non-soluble material - broken idols float out of the sea and hordes of rubbish, plastic and debris are seen floating on the beaches, once the festival is over.

Sprouts Environmental Trust’s beach-clean up drive finishes its 11th year

For the last ten years, Sprouts Envt Trust in Mumbai has been organising beach-clean up drives. They invite schools, corporates and the general public to join them in their mission of cleaning up the beaches post the religious processions.

Unhappy with the manner in which we celebrate the festival, a miffed Anand Pendharkar, founder of Sprouts, remarks, "For spreading noise and water pollution, the festivities are protected by authorities. But to clean up the lakes and beaches, we need permission."

Pendharkar says that it's high time we learnt how to celebrate festivals responsibly and sensibly. "All the plastic, metal, glass, plaster of paris and decorative material like thermacol and colours used are hazardous. The chemical in the colours are poisonous and kill the fish in the ocean.

 

We invite many people to join us so that they can see the remains of the sacred worship and see how our coastlines look after the processions."

Indeed, the filth and garbage piled up on the coasts are not going to please the Gods.

Citizens pressure the civic authorities

In Mumbai, after enormous pressure by the Juhu residents association a few years ago, the (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) BMC routinely clean up the entire beach after the festival is over, within one day.

Eco-friendly Ganpati Festival

Anand says, "We have started promoting eco-friendly idols, made of clay, natural colours. We are promoting bio-degradable idols and materials. There are lakhs of Ganpati idols that are immersed in the ocean every year. BMC and other environmental organisations like WWF, Rotary clubs, Sprouts Trust etc. get together with school and college kids, and organize beach-clean up drives.

Of late, civic authorities and the BMC have also started building artificial ponds in different parts of the city, where devotees do not need to go to the beach front, but can make a trip to the artificial lake/pond in their neighbourhood to immerse the idol. The lakes are later thoroughly cleaned up by the BMC."

Why these ordinary citizens clean up our coastline

On September 9, 2014, a day after the Ganpati festival ended, about a 100 volunteers gathered at Girgaum, Chowpatty beach in Mumbai to clean up the beach. Jaago Re spoke to a few of them and asked them what makes them come for the clean-up drive year after year.

Vinayak Kamble, 27, research student at Indian Institute of Science

My mother asked me why I join the beach clean-up drive. "It's the BMC's job," she says.

I tell her it's important because it's not a one-man job. Even if a 100 people come together to clean up the beach, it cannot be cleaned, such is the extent to which the beach gets polluted.

The authorities need helping hands. If all the devotees gathered on the beach pick up one stray of garbage each, our coastlines would be clean.

Sachin Marti, 26 years old, working with Tata Institute of Social Sciences on a project at Vasai lake

People come here with a lot of devotion and enthusiasm to immerse the Ganpati idol and to bid farewell to the Ganesh lord. Why don't we clean up our beaches with the same enthusiasm and devotion?

Ruchira Mahashabde, 20 years, pharmacy student

When we start cleaning up the beach, most just stare at us and wonder what we are doing. Some continue to litter the beach despite the fact that they can see us cleaning up. Very few join us in cleaning up.

What's funny is that people come to the beaches to be spectators at the Great Visarjan Festival. The Ganesh idols, and all the decorative glitz get washed up at the shore in masses. People even stand on the remains of the idols to enjoy the festivities.

Sudesh Pansare, 53, corporate trainer and outdoor expert

People always say, "Someone has to clean up this mess." Well, I say someone has to take the first step.

For leisure or entertainment people happily commit and prioritise – but for this dirty job, people find excuses.

I have been coming for clean-up drive the last four years. I hate to see piles of garbage lying around, on our streets, in the cities, on our beaches.

Omkar Pai, 21, student, trustee of Sprouts Environmental Trust

People throw garbage and litter so casually. When we ask them to join us to clean up the dirt, they get cynical and question us; they make remarks and denounce it as "social service". It isn't.

People must understand that we have to take ownership of our environment. They are not doing a favour for anyone. It is their responsibility to keep the environment clean.

Anand Pendharkar, Founder, Sprouts Envt. Trust

People see us in knee-deep water lifting the broken ganesha idols out of the ocean. We shout out for help. Yet people are very hesitant to join in.

Will the Gods be pleased?

The images of Ganesh idols lying broken and disheveled on the beaches were too graphic to publish here. Our nature of festivities have often been under question: do we indulge in severe noise, water pollution at the time of many Indian festivals?

Is there a sense of hypocrisy and double standards in our nature of festivities? Is there a need for reform?

Will the Gods be happy to see the destruction of our natural water bodies and coastlines that make up our cities, and our country?

If you think we need to change our habits, to make way for festivities that are more environmentally sound and people-friendly, please leave your comments below.

You can also visit Sprouts Envt Trust here

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