Is the Money Enough to Clean the Ganges?

The river Ganges flows from an ancient Himalayan glacier and runs over 1500 miles through the country of India until it empties into the Bay of Bengal. It is considered holy to Hindus, and on its banks resides the city of Varanasi, which many consider to be the holiest place for Hindus; not to mention, it supports one of the highest population densities in the world.

However, due to massive amounts of human and chemical waste, it is one of the most polluted rivers on earth. Two days ago, the World Bank agreed to loan India $1 billion to help clean up the Ganges River, an estimated $3.5 billion project. To me, the success or failure of this undertaking will signify whether or not India can truly become one of the great developed countries on the world stage.

Does India have the ability to temper the powerful religious undercurrent that flows through the Ganges? Millions of people go on a pilgrimage to its banks every year to bathe, pray, and sometimes leave the dead bodies of their beloved in the waters. In order to clean up, and keep this holy watershed clean, the Indian government must be willing to not only put its foot down on the religious and political agendas but convince the 350 million people in India that live in its watershed, and the hundreds of millions of other Indians that feel religiously connected to the river to stop bathing in it. Consider the task of convincing the entire population of the U.S. to agree on anything, much less when it involves religious rights versus protecting the environment.

Unfortunately the U.S. has not done a very good job leading by example. If India can pull off this feat, they will truly be a world leader.

-Chase Janvrin

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3 Responses to Is the Money Enough to Clean the Ganges?

  1. Chris Phippen says:

    I agree with you Chase: if India did pull that off, they would be a world leader indeed. But can they? Religion is a powerful force in the hearts and minds of human beings, and attempting to change something that is both as long standing a tradition and as holy as the River Ganges could be disastrous. To illustrate the resistance to change in a strongly religious context, one needs only to look as far as the most recent article on Israel and Palestine.

  2. Leslie Mann says:

    I agree with Chris that the power of religion will reign and practices that have taken place for centuries will not just be abandoned or taken elsewhere. If the Ganges were to be cleaned, would Hindus make their pilgramage elsewhere? Would they be forced to by the government? If not, would the the cleaning of the river would be fruitless since thousands will continue to worship at its banks each year? How would it be possible to “force” millions of people to practice their religion some other place? The cleaning of the river, for health purposes alone, should be enough to see it take place, but putting restrictions on those who worship there would be impossible.

  3. I don’t think being a world leader constitutes that you have the ability to basically refute a religious practice that has occurred for centuries for the sake of a little cleanliness. If that is the case, then North Korea and China are the leaders of the world with their draconian policies. It seems like the Ghanges clean up is an extremely tough project to complete, and I doubt the government could do anything that would make these people not bathe in these waters. I do think that it is possible to enforce restrictions on what can be put in the water and what can be used as bathing products. These restrictions as well as strict regulations for chemical containment of factories close to the river could help make the river less polluted. Now, if India were to do this, I do believe that they have come a long way and shows the strength of their government.

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