Serving in god's name

This dedicated band have abandoned their egos and selfishness to go about performing social service without any fanfare

Published: Wednesday 31 May 2000

-- after the 1999 super cyclone in Orissa, many organisations took up relief work in the state. Very often the volunteers were frustrated in their task by the very people they were meant to assist. In their desperation to get food and water, medical supplies and clothes the affected people were often unruly and difficult to control. Many a philanthropist returned disgusted after observing violent scenes when distribution of necessities was being conducted.

One of the first non-governmental organisations to reach the devastated areas was Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha ( baps ) based in Gujarat. With the help of its sadhus and a spiritual perspective, the organisation was able to distribute relief without a volunteer having to raise his/her voice. Having served humanity for over 200 years, baps relief and environmental work is a case study of how the spiritual factor motivates people to live in harmony - not only with themselves, but with the environment as well.

The organisation's work can be traced to the famine of 1812-13. Recently, it rendered invaluable service during the Morvi dam-burst in 1979 and the Gujarat drought of 1987-88. On other fronts, the baps youth and children's wing has planted 1.2 million trees in 2,170 villages. Trees were also planted in Vadodara district as replacements for the forested areas likely to be submerged by the Narmada project. When wood was used for the new Swaminarayan temple in London, the saplings planted in Devon numbered ten times those cut from a sustainable forest.

The organisation earned three British awards when, on a call given by the Pramukh Swami, children and adults in London collected seven million soft-drink aluminium cans and 91 tonnes of waste aluminium foil for recycling. They also collect waste-paper for recycling as permanent projects at baps centres in Calcutta, Chennai, Mumbai, Surat, Vadodara, Amdavad and Rajkot.

Another concurrent project is watershed management in Saurashtra. Between 1996 and 1999, baps has constructed 53 concrete check-dams, 78 farm ponds in 25 villages, repaired 10 ponds and check dams and plugged 125 gullies. In Ningala village of Gadhada block, Pragjibhai Vaghani, president, Jal Sangathan Mandal says: "With the check-dams built, the youth have stopped migrating to cities and our income has increased by more than double."

In 1996, when baps embarked on well-recharging the farmers were sceptical. But once a working model was shown and explained the task of modifying 5,475 wells for recharging in 338 villages became easy. Water saving is a permanent priority in semi-arid Saurashtra. As such several of the organisation's farms have permanent drip irrigation. This makes fruit, uncommon in the state, such as papaya, guava, pomegranate and chiku , thrive. Besides, drip irrigation, experts are awed by baps legacy for award-winning livestock. In the past 15 years, it has bagged 32 national awards for cows, bulls and buffaloes.

Whether it is animal husbandry or waste management, baps experiences indicate that the spiritual factor plays a crucial role in the holistic management of the environment. Only when man manages his spirit can he objectively strive to overcome barriers of selfishness, greed, hate and ego of race or status - the true culprits stifling the sustainable management of the global ecosystem.

The most remarkable aspect of this approach is that people offer their services with no expectations and rewards. They continue rendering assistance eagerly yet silently whether society takes note or not.

The author is project officer, watershed project, baps head office, Amdavad .

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