Frustrated with his local government's disregard of a sacred river, one determined man restored their dumping ground back to its original beauty.
Sant Balbir Singh Seechewal had had enough. In 2000, he decided it was time to clean up the Kali Bein River in the sacred region of the Hoshiarpur district of Punjab. This region had been used for centuries as a dumping ground for human waste and garbage, with local governments paying no heed to the sacredness of this Sikh waterway.
Seechewal’s attempt to convince the government to discontinue all waste dumping into the river fell on deaf ears, as they refused to make any legislation that would suit his convictions; he responded by summoning the Sikh tradition of free voluntary service, called kar sewa.
He began to clean the river single-handedly, working steadily and spreading narrations of the history and value of the Bein, eventually drawing hundreds to help him complete the task. Seechewal gathered a small team of recruiters, who would then reach out to locals and explain the need to clean the river.
This technique proved wildly successful, as the campaign to save the river began to generate funds for equipment, attracted volunteers for the physical force, and involved over two dozen villages in the fight to save the sacred place.
It was no small feat, with thousands needed to clear the riverbed of water hyacinth and silt and construct roads along the river’s edges. Seechewal also had to combat the local governments, launching a public-awareness campaign to undermine the authorities and convince villagers to dispose of their waste elsewhere.
Without a doubt, Seechewal inspired a cohesive effort that manifested in an assortment of ways: some villages returned to older, traditional methods of waste disposal and treatment while farmers utilized the treated water to fertilize their crops. Teams of workers worked to beautify the region, planting trees on the banks of the river.
Seechewal and his volunteers’ efforts did not go unnoticed, as the government was forced to recognize the effects of their actions. A government order to divert water from a neighboring canal allowed for natural springs to revive themselves, thus rejuvenating the river.
The restoration of this river has impacted the surrounding areas greatly, with thousands of hectares of land being reclaimed from water-logging, desertification, and floods in various neighboring regions. 400 years of neglect and pollution are hardly noticeable now, thanks to the efforts of one very dedicated man and his refusal to obey what he knew to be detrimental.
Seechewal’s ambitions do not stop there, however. According to the India Times, he has also involved himself in establishing schools, technical centers, and degree colleges. He hopes to aid in eradicating poverty, ignorance, superstition, and the atrocities against women that are still common throughout India. Seechewal has also established plant nurseries, further solidifying his status as a crusader for both the environment and social justice.
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