Kar Seva – A Sikh Environmentalist Stands Out

Time magazine recently named Balbir Singh Seechewal amongst its “Heroes of the Environment 2008.” The acknowledgement highlights the work ofactivists such as Balbir Singh and shows how their passion and innovation can positively impact the environment. Balbir Singh is described as “the Sikh who cleans the corrupted rivers of India,” and he is accoladed for his work of cleaning the historic Kali Bein river. The 99-mile-long river, in the Hoshiarpur district, is considered historically significant because Guru Nanak Dev Jiwas said to have received enlightenment after taking a dip in the Kali Bein river. However, due to years of neglect, the riverhas becomea containment of waste,

Over the past couple of decades it was reduced to a filthy drain into which six towns and more than 40 villages emptied their waste. Parts of the river dried up, leaving neighboring farmlands parched. Its polluted waters also seeped underground, contaminating the groundwater and causing lethal diseases.

In 2000, Balbir Singh and inspired volunteers decided to use the concept of kar seva (voluntary service)to physically clear the entire riverbed and build riverbanks and roads alongside the river. In addition, they educated the locals via a public-awareness campaignon how to keep the river clear of waste. Today the river is not only cleared of sewage, but the natural springs have been revived and the river is once again flowing.

As we join others in praising Balbir Singh and his volunteers for what they have accomplished with the Kali Bein river,I also want to highlightthe concept of Kar Seva and take the liberty to ask if we do enough of it? The most famous examples of Kar Seva occurred at theDarbar Sahib in Amritsar. I have seen picturesand videos of thelast Kar Seva which occurred in Amritsar – andI have to admit,I don’t think words can describe the power of those images.

We seem to be pre-occupied with building new gurdwaras (yes, I know – that’s a whole other issue), but i mention it to simply say that as acommunity, we don’tdo a very good job at sustaining our current establishments. Whether we speak of our historic gurdwaras in Punjab (both East and West Punjab) or if we think about our gurdwaras here in North America – there is a lot of Kar Seva which can be done. After seeing the images of Kar Seva at the Darbar Sahib, it isamazing to me howour community can mobilize itself to such an extent and peform such an incredible act. And yet, in many communities and at many gurdwaras, we struggle with keeping the kitchenclean or the trash picked up. Can Kar Seva exist outside of Punjab? It just makes you wonder….


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6 Responses to “Kar Seva – A Sikh Environmentalist Stands Out”

  1. VKaur says:

    I have heard references to the Kali Bein river but did not know it was in such a state! This type of seva is should be praised and reinforced.

    On a side note, I thought Kar Seva was unique to the seva done at harmandir sahib? Is that incorrect?

  2. VKaur says:

    I have heard references to the Kali Bein river but did not know it was in such a state! This type of seva is should be praised and reinforced.

    On a side note, I thought Kar Seva was unique to the seva done at harmandir sahib? Is that incorrect?

  3. baingandabhartha says:

    On a side note, I thought Kar Seva was unique to the seva done at harmandir sahib? Is that incorrect?[/quote]

    I think that the loose translation for Kar Sewa is volunteer work-can be done any where although mostly one sees it in relation to gurudwara repair/maintenance/rebuilding.

  4. baingandabhartha says:

    On a side note, I thought Kar Seva was unique to the seva done at harmandir sahib? Is that incorrect?[/quote]
    I think that the loose translation for Kar Sewa is volunteer work-can be done any where although mostly one sees it in relation to gurudwara repair/maintenance/rebuilding.

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