While the Ganges River has been India’s holiest river and a source of purification since ancient times, it’s become increasingly polluted with human waste over the years. But a Hindu spiritual leader hopes her donation of $15 million to buy thousands of toilets for villages along the rivers banks will help clean things up and make the Ganges safe for the millions of spiritual seekers who flock to its banks each year. According to the Guardian, Mātā Amṛtānandamayī Devī – known as Amma (“mother”) to her followers – donated the money to the government’s campaign to ensure all Indians are using toilets by 2019. She called it “one of the most important tasks of the hour.

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“The river is a symbol of the ancient Indian culture. But only some of what is called the Ganges today is the original pure water. The rest is sewage and factory waste,” she said. “People still have the faith that the Ganga is the Divine Mother herself and has healing properties. As such, millions go there to bathe and drink the water. Due to pollution, this can cause sickness.”

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As more than 600 million Indians don’t have access to a toilet, feces is a big problem in the country. According to the Guardian, more than 200,000 children under the age of five succumb to diarrhea each year, and nearly half under the age of five have their growth stunted due to infections from fecal exposure.

Amṛtānandamayī added that the government’s program needs to not only provide toilets, but also encourage the poor residents along the banks of the Ganges to use them.

“Devoid of another place to relieve themselves, the villagers do it in open ground. It isn’t really a preference, but has become a habit due to lack of other options. They are unaware of its ill effects. They do it out of helplessness. Proper education will certainly create a change,” she said. “I was also raised like that and lived like that till seven. Yet, I changed my ways. So, I am sure these people will also change.”

Via the Guardian

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