The river Ganges has literally been at the center of Indian life for thousands of years, both socially and spiritually. Millions of people have been fed, bathed and enlightened by it. It’s a sacred river, regarded as the most important stream in Hindu mythology – it’s also very dirty.

The Ganges is considered to be the fifth most polluted river in the world, fact only more aggravated if you consider that millions of people and hundreds of species of fish are relying on it. Illegal mining activities upstream amount to unthinkable amount of waste which goes into the river and downstream through out the whole country. Governmental corruption, bureaucracy, business interests and so on have kept this desecration from getting shut down.

Waves of protests have sprung out, of course, since the pollution levels rose considerably; but the environmental groups have been too limited. One of these protesters was Swami Nigmananda, who, in order gain the power’s and media attention towards the Ganges crisis, decided to enter a personal hunger strike. He first started a few years back when his efforts were recognized and the mining was shut down, only to reboot after a few months. Swami didn’t give up and relentlessly entered in series of fasting for the next few years, all the time being the same cat and mouse game. He still went on, though.

On February 19, the Swami again declared a fast. By April 27, his health began to seriously deteriorate. Four months later, after 115 days of peaceful defiance, Nigmananda died as the Ganges flowed, clouded by industrial waste.

As often seen in such cases, his cause and noble motives were recognized much too late, after his death. His supporters are now pursuing the government to put an end to the Ganges pollution and are bashing the media for not showing any kind of social concern. I only hope Swami Nigmananda’s sacrifice hasn’t been in vain. Rest in peace.

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