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Hope for the Yamuna River
After a whole year of active protesting and lobbying by sadhus, devotees, and environmentalists, it looks like the fight for the Yamuna River is finally reaching its peak, with the issue snowballing its way into Indian Parliament on December 18th.
Major TV stations in India broadcast a heated three-hour debate in which fifteen to twenty members of Parliament challenged the government as to what it was going to do about the sacred river, declared ‘dead’ by the Ecological Department of India. The outraged politicians included former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav.
There’s been widespread public anger for the past year due to the fact that while the Yamuna emerges clean from Yamunotri, its source in the Himalayas, there is barely a drop of the original sacred river left by the time it reaches Braj, Lord Krishna’s birthplace. That’s because eighty-five per cent of it is held back by an irrigation dam in the state of Haryana, while 3.6 billion liters of Delhi City sewage and industrial waste is emptied into it every day.
Back on April 15th this year, one thousand protestors finished a month-and-a-half long march at the common protest ground of Jantar Mantar in Delhi, where they were joined by another 19,000, some of whom went on a six-day hunger strike to get the government’s attention.
The protest was led by sadhu and environmentalist Ramesh Babaji and members of his Maan Mandir organization; Bhanu Pratap Singh, head of the 100,000 strong Bhartiya Kisan Farmer’s Union; and ISKCON devotee and businessman Radha Jivan Dasa.
Now, with Parliament finally taking notice of the issue, worshippers of Yamuna Maharani are seizing the opportunity with both hands.
“Maan Mandir devotees, who have been at the forefront of taking care of the environment in the sacred land of Braj for many years, are approaching the politicians who made the most noise in Parliament to inform them more and encourage them to speak for the Yamuna’s cause,” says Radha Jivan Dasa.
As the issue heats up, Maan Mandir is also organizing its biggest protest yet. Starting from February 1st, it will run a 24-hour “Dharana” or “sit-in” at Keshi Ghat on the banks of the Yamuna in Vrindavana, for an entire year.
“Right now, a team of devotees headed by Maan Mandir’s Jaya Sri Krishna Dasa is going around requesting each of Braj’s villages to come and participate in the sit-in and chant Harinama for a 24-hour shift,” Radha Jivan says. “Since there are 1,000 villages, we’ll have no problem filling in the 365 days required. Many of the poor villagers have already enthusiastically committed, and even refused to let us pay for their transport to the site, saying it will be their service to Yamuna Maharani.”
Radha Jivan expects at least 1,000 people, with banners, loudspeakers, speeches, and prasadam provided by Maan Mandir, to be present at Keshi Ghat at all times throughout the year 2012. Politicians will speak at the protest, which will be covered by all major newspapers and television stations.
The protestors have a clear demand: Let a clean Yamuna flow into Braj. They are asking for some of the Yamuna water held in Haryana to be released, and requesting Delhi to build a 22 kilometer canal for its waste, which can then be cleaned for irrigation, rather than using the Yamuna.
The Yamuna river is expected to be a key issue in the Uttar Pradesh general elections, starting on February 28th next year, with Brijbasis and members of the 100,000-strong Kisan Farmers Union stating that they will vote only for the candidates that promise them clean Yamuna water.
As the year-long “Dharana” begins, two members of Maan Mandir and two devotees from ISKCON Germany plan to fly to Mayapur, West Bengal to make a presentation on the Yamuna effort to the Governing Body Commission, ISKCON’s highest management authority.
“The Maan Mandir devotees are Brajaraj Sharan, who has campaigned for the Yamuna around the world, and Ravi Monga, a legal liason for the campaign,” says Radha Jivan. “The ISKCON devotees are both disciples of Radhanath Swami, who is a big supporter. They all feel that with GBC support, ISKCON as a worldwide Vaishnava organization can truly get behind the fight for Yamuna Maharani, campaigning internationally and putting pressure on the government.”
It still remains to be seen if worshippers of the sacred Yamuna will get their wish, and be able to save Lord Krisna’s beloved river. But with protests and political interest reaching an all-time peak and entering Parliament, it looks like the dam is about to break.
By Madhava Smullen for ISKCON News on 31 Dec 2011