What does it take to clean the Ganga?
People’s participation, according to the government, and, a heavy discourse on the divine origin of the river that sustains 46% of India’s population.
A handbook on the river brought out by the NDA government draws heavily from Hindu mythology, apparently turning the massive exercise of cleaning the river into a sermon.
The Narendra Modi government is spending Rs 20,000 crore over the next few years to clean the 2,525 km-long river.
Here are some samples from the book, published by the National Literacy Mission Authority under the human resource development (HRD) ministry:
When a person on death bed drinks ‘Gangajal’, it reduces his pain, gives “peace” to the soul after death, and brings “moksha” (salvation), says the book titled ‘Ganga Rahi Pukaar’.
“Think of how much ‘tapasya’ our ancestors did to bring Ganga to Earth!”, it says, giving a detailed account of the mythical fight between “devtas” and “daityas” and the role of Lord Shiva in the exercise.
Characters from villages tell stories -- largely mythical -- about Ganga and “bacteria-killing” quality of the river and its curative properties.
Though the ruling BJP considers the Mughals as invaders who heaped misery on Hindustan, the book has references to kings and emperors to highlight the Ganga’s importance to “all”.
The book offers anecdotes about how ‘gangajal’ was brought by Sultan Mohammed Tughlaq to Daulatabad and about Mughal emperor Akbar consuming only Ganga water.
About 10,000 copies have been distributed for trainers of the adult education programme, gram panchayats and volunteers to create awareness.
Officials said more copies will be printed with funds from th Ganga Action Plan.
“The idea is to ensure villagers take ownership of the river and treat it as their own. The stories that are there in the book are meant to not only educate but hold their interest too. A committee that had representation from all religions was formed for the content of the book,” said a senior HRD official, rejecting any religious slant in the book.One chapter is devoted to places of pilgrimage along the river.
At the end of it, readers are asked questions: Why is Gangotri famous? Where is Daksha Prajapati temple? Where is Vishwanath temple?
Another chapter has another set of questions: Why is Kumbh mela held? Who is worshipped during Chhath Pooja? What happens during Kanwar yatra?
Rakesh Sinha of the think-tank Environmental Resource Group, said the Ganga is an “environmental necessity” rather than a religious or cultural imperative.
“Taking a religious view may help the cause of Ganga but what about other rivers?” he said.