Sacred, Polluted Rivers

© Unsplash

Since ancient times, the South Asia region has welcomed different religions and cultures. Today, the region includes countries like India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh which dazzle with their socio-cultural diversity. The main religions like Islam and Hinduism have enormous numbers of adherents in the region, with more than 800 million Hindu believers and around 500 million Muslims. Hence, religion has a remarkable influence on society and can provide a model for the solution of environmental problems which cause great damage to socio-ecological life in the region. Around 1.2 million people die every year due to air pollution related diseases. Pakistan and Bangladesh are suffering from environmental pollution; 40% of all deaths are caused by water pollution-related diseases in Pakistan and 26.6% of all deaths happen due to environmental pollution in Bangladesh. These worrisome statistics warn us of the need to find effective ways to resolve this issue and the influence of religion on people’s lifestyle should not be ignored when it comes to changing people’s behaviour.

Hinduism, as the largest religion in the Indian subcontinent, is quite diverse and comprises different kinds of sacred texts such as Upanishads, Puranas, or Sutras. The interconnectedness of life is a significant Hindu teaching, as is the notion of Dharma or duty. These sacred texts give weight to caring for the environment. For Hindus, water is sacred, especially a river like the Ganges which is personified as the Goddess Ganga. Environmental activists like GD Agarwal, who died on hunger strike while protesting against pollution in the Ganges river, are engaged in an uphill struggle. Many Hindu environmentalist groups have been organized to cope with ecological challenges. The Chipko Movement, as a forest conservation movement, is a remarkable example of people protecting trees by ‘hugging’ them.

Islam has millions of adherents in the region and is already making a contribution on ecological issues by changing Muslims’ ecological behaviour by means of fatwa (Islamic religious law). Some Islamic teachings are about people’s responsibility for their environment. In accordance with these teachings, Islamic leaders, policy makers, and academics have adopted the Joint Declaration on Climate Change in 2015, in Istanbul, where they touched on noteworthy issues such as greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energy. The Koran (30: 41) identifies human beings as guarantors for any damage to the universe. The Islamic environmental theology embraces green principles such as environmental protection, biodiversity, sustainability. Muslim environmentalists in the light of the “concept of eco-Islam ” have launched various campaigns like Greening Ramadan, the Clean Medina Campaign, etc.

To conclude, these two religions with more than a billion followers are well placed to address this highly critical issue which threatens the future of humanity in the South Asia region. Religion alone does not have executive power, but it plays a highly important cultural role and it is very influential in motivating politicians. Faith-based organizations need to work together with government officials, other green NGOs, and local environmental groups to solve environmental problems effectively.

Ismayil Targuluyev
ELP fellow