Holy Man Dies After Four-Month Fast Against Polluters is Ignored

bather in the ganges photo
Photo: jpereira_net / cc

In Hindu tradition, the waters of the sacred River Ganges are capable of reviving the spirit and cleansing the soul -- but as illegal mining activities upstream have carried on unabated, its flow has been muddied with pollution from industrial waste. Faced with influential business interests and a corrupt bureaucracy unwilling to stop it, a Swami named Nigamananda Saraswati started a peaceful protest. Last February, the Swami began to fast for the sake of his beloved river. And now, after four months of inaction on the part of the government, the holy man has died, his cause ignored. Around 400 million Indians rely on the River Ganges for both spiritual and physical sustenance, as has been custom for generations. In recent decades, however, pollution from illegal sand mining and stone-crushing operations upstream have compounded existing problems faced by the river from the large population along its shores.

Corruption and bribery is widely believed to be why the Indian government has yet to address the problem -- spurring activists and spiritual leaders, like the Swami, to peacefully protest the pollution.

Three years ago, Swami Nigmananda fasted on behalf of the river, and he got the attention of those in power. In April 2008, the mining was banned, but this cessation would be short lived. A few months later, the polluting industry resumed, as did the protests. Over the next several years, the activist's fasts would halt the mining, only to have it return over and over again.

Throughout, Nigmananda never wavered in his commitment to protect the Ganges from polluting profiteers who continued to pollute the holy river. So, on February 19, the Swami again declared a fast. By April 27, his health began to seriously deteriorate. On Monday, after 115 of peaceful defiance, Nigmananda died as the Ganges flowed, clouded by industrial waste.

A report from Daiji World describes Nigmananda's fated protest:

Swami Nigamananda from Matru Sadan Ashram in Haridwar, had been on fast since the last nearly four months, demanding shifting of stone crushers being operated at the spot where Kumbhamela is held, alleging that the powdered stone has been polluting River Ganga, considered to be holy by Hindus. The government neglected to look into his demands, and he breathed his last at the hospital on Monday June 13. Nigamananda (36) had fought a lone battle against the state government's apathy relating to environmental damage inflicted by the stone crushing units, and had been trying to attract the attention of the national media towards the natural calamities suffered by the people of the state.

Nigamananda's supporters say that the activist's death has "given rise to a number of questions about the sincerity of the government and the media towards causes backed by social concern," writes the report. "Swami Nigamananda's noble motives got dashed because of stays obtained by owners of stone crushers from the High Court, and lack of support from the local people who did not rally behind him."

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