These folks go to town – to clean it up

“Seva is our own inner joy pouring forth into action. Seva connects us to others and makes them part of us.” – Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

For Basant Kumar, a 42 year old farmer from a village in Chhattisgarh, Sunday is a unique day. Every Sunday for the past two months he has been kick starting his bike on the dot at 6:10am in the morning, and rides 7kms to the nearby town of Bagbahra. There he is soon joined by 50 others. Then begins the work which has managed to capture the imagination of the folks in and around Bagbahra.

Situated 90 kilometres east of Raipur, this town has a population of around 16,746. Bagbahara has an average literacy rate of 59%. Of late, there is one activity in the town which everybody keenly looks up to, a Clean India campaign undertaken by the Art of Living volunteers in the region.

“Seva is a natural by-product of Art of Living courses.”

What started off as a trip to a nearby tourist spot, has become one of the most interesting activities for the folks in and around Bagbahra town, with people from all walks of life participating enthusiastically. “It all started 8 months ago”, says Rajendra Bajpai, 48, an Art of Living volunteer and the leader of the team. “The Nagar Pallika is supposed to do the cleaning, and people used to be depend only on them. But due to some reason the workers were on strike at the time. Cleanliness, which was already poor to begin with, began to take a hit.” Middle-aged Rajendra Bajpai’s energy and enthusiasm matches that of a 20 year old.

“Seva or service is an outer expression of inner joy. It is usually a natural by-product of Art of Living courses. It was this urge to serve which transformed a trip to Sirpur and Turturiya, into a stepping stone for a project, which has been running continuously for 8 months now,” he explains.

Another founding member of the team, Vishwajeet Thakur says,” Initially the response was low, but we persisted. Every Sunday, without fail we continued. Soon the residents began to join us. Soon people from nearby villages, politicians, ministers, public representatives, even the media, without invitation, started coming together to help the group. We have managed to get the citizens to act. Today we even have our own website created by one of our volunteers Ram Kumar.”

“This has completely been an initiative taken and run by volunteers.” says Shailaja Chandrakar, a senior Art of Living faculty. She resides in Durg, 280 kms from Bagbahra. “I happen to go there very rarely, as it is far off. Sadhana, Seva & Satsang are the 3 pillars of Art of Living, but Seva part was a bit lacking. So I suggested them to take up some task. They took a decision and began, and the way they have done it has been really overwhelming.” she adds.

“Every 2-3 weeks we happen to have a day where as many as 200-300 people, males as well as females, voluntarily join us for cleaning. We have cleaned roads, nalas, bus stands, temples, grounds, lakes, railway stations, etc. What I have found is that if given a proper atmosphere people contribute selflessly and without apprehensions. Some also have an indirect way of helping. Every time someone comes forth and provides breakfast for us all, especially for the people who come from the nearby villages” says Jai Gandeja, another founding member of the team.

Carrying everyone along:

The response has been tremendous. Today many non-Art of Living volunteers also have joined us. Not just the people of the town but even people from nearby villages have joined us. Some are even replicating the same in their own villages. “I am a farmer. Most of these people are farmers, rice-millers, shopkeepers aged between 20-40 years. Sunday is a free day and thus we all come together.” says Basant Kumar. He adds “I was inspired with their work. Many have been. They were doing something good and very necessary. I thought I should do it as well and thus I joined them. I haven’t done the Art of Living courses but I surely will now. The town used to be in shambles but the change is clearly visible. I am thinking of starting it in my village too”.

“Apart from the cleanliness drive we have also spread awareness. We tell them how they can contribute on a personal level. Shopkeepers have now started keeping dustbins. Defecation in the open is a lot less now, we are working on it. We are planning to engage people in taking care of their own lanes, reducing use of plastics. Awareness is the key.” Rajendra Bajpai says.

The learnings and implications from this project are huge. Who could have thought that a project started off with a zero budget, without any official assistance, would be such a huge success? But this is what a citizen initiative can achieve. This is yet another example of how the Art of Living has managed to harness that potential into social change time and again. These are simple people, whose concern to do service, to work unitedly for social good, has today brought out the same from the people around them. This is a great lesson in synergy, which brought out the best in everybody. It is rightly said that - sometimes it’s the simplest of the men who teach us the greatest of lessons!