Skip to main content

Now young ascetic from Kerala, Brahmachari Atmabodhanand, stakes his life for Ganga

By Sandeep Pandey*
Prof GD Agrawal, formerly of Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur and known as Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand since 2011, died on October 11, 2018 on the 112th day of his fast, demanding a law for conservation of river Ganga, at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Rishikesh. Forty-years-old Sant Gopal Das, inspired by Prof Agrawal, also sat on fast for the same cause two days after Prof Agrawal began his fast, on June 24, 2018 at Badridham temple in Badrinath, was kept in the Intensive Care Unit of AIIMS, New Delhi after being moved about to different hospitals in Uttarakhand, Chandigarh and New Delhi.
On December 4 he was taken to Dehradun from New Delhi and left outside the office of District Magistrate. He got admitted after that to a hospital in Dehradun but is untraceable since December 6, 2018. Earlier Swami Nigamanand, then 35 years of age, also associated with Matre Sadan, died on 115th day of his fast in 2011 in a government hospital in Haridwar demanding curb on mining in Ganga, which Matre Sadan claims as a murder by a mining mafia associated with the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party in Uttarakhand then.
Swami Gokulanand, who fasted with Swami Nigamanand during March 4 to 16, 1998, a year after Matre Sadan was established, is also believed to have been murdered by mining mafia in 2003 when he was living in anonymity at Bamaneshwar temple in Nainital. Baba Nagnath died at Manikarnika Ghat in Varanasi in 2014 fasting for the same demand as of Prof Agrawal, to let Ganga flow uninhibited and unpolluted, Aviral and Nirmal, respectively.
Now 26-years old Brahmachari Atmabodhanand, who hails from Kerala, is on fast since October 24 as a sequel to Prof Agrawal's fast at Matre Sadan in Haridwar, which Prof Agrawal had chosen as the site of his fast. Even when Prof Agrawal was alive, the head of Matre Sadan Swami Shivanand had warned persons belonging to RSS, the ideological parent of ruling BJP in power both at Delhi and Dehradun, who were visiting him that if anything happened to Swami Sanand he and his disciples would continue the unfinished task undertaken by Prof Agrawal.
Prof Agrawal's was 59th fast by a saint associated with Matre Sadan and Atmabodhanand's is 60th. Brahmachari Atmabodhanand dropped out of a Computer Science graduation programme and became a saint at the age of 21 years. He has fasted seven times till now for the sake of Ganga, at least once every year since 2014.
In 2017 when he publicly protested against DM of Haridwar, Deepak Rawat, who was patronizing illegal sand mining in Ganga, being given an award in the name of Madan Mohan Malviya, he was beaten by the DM and his security personnel in a room behind the stage and put in jail for a day.
During the ongoing fast Atmabodhanand was forcibly admitted to hospital by the district administration on 29 November, 2018 and when his condition started deteriorating on 1 December he left the hospital against medical advice (known as LAMA in medical parlance). When he was in hospital Atmabodhanand was told that he was suffering from dengue and his platelet count had dropped to 64,000 but after independently verifying it outside he discovered it to be 1,01,000.
Sixty two-years-old Swami Punyanand of Matre Sadan gave up food grains and is on fruit diet since Atmabodhanand started his fast on October 24 and is prepared to shift to a water diet in the event of Atmabodhanand becoming a casualty.
If the government would have been sincere about cleaning Ganga at least four out of 10 people in the country would have directly benefitted, whereas nobody's life is in danger if the proposed grand temple in Ayodhya is not built and in Sabrimala the BJP is taking the society backwards by obstructing the entry of women of child bearing age going against the Supreme Court decision.
It would have been better if the RSS-BJP combine, which leave no opportunity to exploit people’s religious sentiments, had given preference to an issue which benefits people rather than promoting retrogressive agenda.
The Namami Gange programme meant for cleaning Ganga aims at abatement of polluting activities in the river through interception, diversion and treatment of waste water flowing into it through drains. However, the capacity of Sewage Treatment Plants is woefully short of the volume of sewage being generated and we are nowhere near being able to completely treat the whole sewage.
Rs 11,176.81 crore, which is more than half the budget of Namami Gange, has been earmarked for creating a capacity to treat 1,178.75 million litres per day (MLD) of sewage but the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), responsible for implementation of Namami Gange, estimates total sewage generation to be 2,900 MLD.
In all likelihood by the time NMCG meets its target of sewage treatment the volume of sewage generated would have gone up several times. It almost appears to be a hopeless task. The only hope is to let the river clean itself but that will require letting the river flow naturally, a demand for which Prof GD Agrawal fasted and died and something with which Nitin Gadkari doesn't agree.
There is clear conflict between the development agenda of governments and the demand of environmentalists and fasting saints. There is also a view that sewage should not flow into water bodies and must find an alternative disposal.
For two reasons the hydroelectric projects are undesirable in the Himalayas. It has been seen that maximum damage was caused at the sites of hydroelectric project in the floods of 2013. Moreover, dams and barrages on Ganga by obstructing the flow of river take away the unique bactricidal properties of flowing Ganga water which is present in its sediments.
In 1965 Calcutta Port Trust reported 8.92 milligram per liter of sediments near Sundarbans while in 2016-17 department of forest reports it to be 5.52 mg/l in high tide and only 4.68 mg/l in low tide according to scholar Supratim Karmakar from West Bengal. A number of researches and expert committees have opined that modern development of the kind which seeks to build hydroelectric projects is an invitation to disaster and should not be pursued.
Had the government not released water from Tehri dam by submerging more people before they could be rehabilitated, there would not have been enough water in Allahabad, now renamed Prayagraj, for people to take a dip in Ganga during the ongoing Kumbh. However, the governments have been surreptitiously promoting the dams and their builders and have ignored the sane opinion which is now resonating in the voice of fasting saints.
Support has been received even from Bangladesh for the struggle to ensure Aviral and Nirmal Ganga which shows the issue affects lives of people across India's border too.
The boatfolk community, Nishad or Mallah, in Varanasi has been protesting against the introduction of cruise owned by a private company to ferry passengers. At stake is a population of about forty thousand whose livelihood depends on the three thousand boats in Ganga at Varanasi.
While licences of boatfolk have not been renewed by the Municipal Commissioner, the cruise has obtained permission from Tourism department of Government of India. The leader of the community Vinod Sahni is in jail on false charges since May 2018 as was opposing the traditional exploitation of boatfolk at the hands of middlemen as well as the new projects being launched by the BJP government which are a threat to the livelihood of boatfolk.
The Nishad community is also demanding the traditional agricultural rights over land across the river from Varanasi city which is now in danger of being encroached by vested interests. People living all along Ganga whose livelihood depends on it face a similar bleak future.
The BJP’s hypocrisy related to Ganga stands exposed now. It is apparent that saints fasting for Ganga or the boatfolk of Varanasi matter little for it compared to the vested interests of private corporations who gain from commercialization of Ganga. If it has to choose between its core agenda of Hindutva and profits for corporations it has made its preference clear.
However, this could spell trouble for BJP. Tulsidas in Ramcharitmanas has said that if saints are unhappy in a regime then the king may burn even without fire. BJP’s fortunes have seen a sharp downhill since the saints started fasting in Uttarakhand, also known as Devbhumi, or land of God. It could be a mere coincidence.
---
*Magsaysay Award winning social activist

Comments

TRENDING

Bharat Ratna nominee ‘joined hands’ with British masters to 'crush' Quit India

By Shamsul Islam*
The Quit India Movement (QIM), also known as ‘August Kranti' (August Revolution), was a nation-wide Civil Disobedience Movement for which a call was given on August 7, 1942 by the Bombay session of the All-India Congress Committee. It was to begin on August 9 as per Gandhi's call to 'Do or Die' in his Quit India speech delivered in Bombay at the Gowalia Tank Maidan on August 8. Since then August 9 is celebrated as August Kranti Divas.

132 Gujarat citizens, including IIM-A faculty, others declare solidarity with Kashmiris

Counterview Desk
A week after it was floated, 132 activists, academics, students, artists and other concerned citizens of Gujarat, backed by 118 living in different parts of India and the world, have signed a "solidarity letter" supporting the people of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), who, it claims, have been silenced and held captive in their own land. The signatories include faculty members and scholars of the prestigious Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A).

Plebiscite in J&K? Delhi meet demands implementation of UN 'commitment'

Counterview Desk
A citizens’ protest, organised on October 19 at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, to protest against the 75 days of “oppression” of the people of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) saw over 200 activists, academics, intellectuals, prominent citizens, students, citizens from a large number of groups controversially appeared to suggest holding plebiscite in order to decide the future of the state.

Without tribal consent? 1,000 of 1,700 acres 'acquired' off Statue of Unity, Narmada dam

By Our Representative 
The Gujarat government has already acquired 1,100 acres out of 1,700 acres of the tribal land of six villages – Navagam, Limdi, Gora, Vagadia, Kevadia and Mithi – for developing tourism next to the 182-metre high Statue of Unity, the world's tallest, putting at risk the livelihood option of their 8,000 residents, and is all set to acquire rest of the land, representatives of the villagers have alleged in Ahmedabad.

Gujarat's incomplete canals: Narmada dam filled up, yet benefits 'won't reach' farmers

By Our Representative
Even as the Gujarat government is making all out efforts to fill up the Sardar Sarovar dam on Narmada river up to the full reservoir level (FRL), a senior farmer rights leader has said the huge reservoir, as of today, remains a “mirage for the farmers of Gujarat”.
In a statement, Sagar Rabari of the Khedut Ekta Manch (KEM), has said that though the dam’s reservoir is being filled up, the canal network remains complete. Quoting latest government figures, he says, meanwhile, the command area of the dam has been reduced from 18,45,000 hectares (ha) to 17,92,000 ha.
“According to the website of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd, which was last updated on Friday, while the main canal, of 458 km long, has been completed, 144 km of ranch canals out of the proposed length of 2731 km remain incomplete.
Then, as against the targeted 4,569 km distributaries, 4,347 km have been constructed, suggesting work for 222 km is still pending. And of the 15,670 km of minor canal…

Ceramic worker dies: 20,000 workers in Thangadh, Gujarat, 'risk' deadly silicosis

By Our Representative
Even as the country was busy preparing for the Janmashtami festival on Saturday, Hareshbhai, a 46-year-old ceramic worker from suffering from the fatal lung disease silicosis, passed away. He worked in a ceramic unit in Thangadh in Surendranagar district of Gujarat from 2000 to 2016.
Hareshbhai was diagnosed with the disease by the GCS Medical College, Naroda Road, Ahmedabad in 2014. He was found to be suffering from progressive massive fibrosis. He is left behind by his wife Rekha sister and two sons Deepak (18) and Umesh (12),
The death of Hareshbhai, says Jagdish Patel of the health rights group Peoples Training and Research Centre (PTRC), suggests that silicosis, an occupational disease, can be prevented but not cured, and the Factory Act has sufficient provisions to prevent this.
According to Patel, the pottery industry in the industrial town of Thangadh has evolved for a long time and locals as well as migrant workers are employed here. There are abou…

Cess for Gujarat construction workers: Spending less than 10%; no 'direct help' to beneficiaries

By Our Representative
While the Gujarat government’s Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board, set up in 2004, as of March 31, 2019, has collected a total cess of Rs 2,097.62 crore from the the builders, it has spent less than 10% -- Rs 197.17 crore. And, as on May 31, 2019, the total cess collection has reached Rs 2,583.16 crore, said a statement issued by Bandhkam Majur Sagathan general secretary Vipul Pandya.
Pointing out that just about 6.5 lakh out of 20 lakh workers have been registered under the board, Pandya said, vis-à-vis other states, Gujarat ranks No 13th in the amount spent on the welfare of the construction workers, while 11th in the amount collected.
And while the builders are obliged to pay just about 1% of the total cost of their project, the calculation of the cess is flawed: It is Rs 3,000 per square yard; accordingly, Rs 30 per square yard is collected. “Had the cess been collected on the real construction cost, it would have been at least Rs 7,000 cr…