Ganges River Cleanup Creates Compromise With Cultural Practices

Ganges River pic

Ganges River

Former Judge Paul Seeman has worked for many years in juvenile law in Alameda County, California. With a focus on mental health issues, Paul Seeman has been nominated for and received a number of awards. Outside of his interests in his work, he also maintains an interest in environmental law and was involved in an international effort to clean up the Ganges River in India.

India is primarily a Hindu country, and the Ganges River in northern India is the most sacred river in the Hindu tradition. In Hindu society, many visit the river to bathe in it due to the importance of cleanliness in their practices. Another ancient practice is to burn deceased bodies on funeral pyres on the river, after which the ashes are spread across the river.

However, a major problem faces the river and its visitors: although it is used by nearly a half billion people, it is highly polluted because cities dump raw sewage directly into the river system. It is also affected by industrial run-off and unsound sanitation practices. This pollution is a major cause of bacterial and water-borne diseases that affect a staggering number people every year, especially infants and children.

An international group of environmental lawyers and financial institutions have gathered since the 1980s to push efforts to clean up the Ganges River. Various methods of cleanup have been proposed, but without scientific understanding and governmental regulations, the efforts are difficult to achieve. The matter is complicated by the need not only clean up the river but to also persuade Hindu people of the need for a compromise between ancient cultural practices and environmental and health issues.


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