In the year 2000, Sant Balbir Singh Seechewal decided that it was time to clean up a sacred part of the Hoshiarpur district of Punjab, the Kali Bein river.
For centuries, city governments along the river had been dumping their human waste and garbage into this sacred Sikh waterway. After unsuccessfully attempting to convince the governments to stop dumping waste into the river, Seechewal drew on the Sikh tradition of kar sewa (free voluntary service).
That’s when Sant Sichewal (also spelled Sancherwal, Sabarwahl, and Sant Balbir Singh Seechewal) jumped in for a cleansing bath of a different kind: one designed to awaken the people. He began cleaning the river single-handedly until his example, and his many narrations on the history and value of the Bein to Sikh history drew hundreds of followers to the task.
Seechewal built a small team of recruits who would, in turn, teach the local people along the Kali Bein why they should clean their river. Their successful campaign raised funds for equipment, enlisted countless volunteers to provide physical work, and more than two dozen villages began helping in the efforts.
Through kar seva, he and thousands have, in a labor of love of untold hours, cleaned the river.
According to the SikhiWiki, the scale of the task was gigantic — volunteers cleared the entire riverbed of water hyacinth and silt, and built riverbanks and roads alongside the river. When appeals to government and municipal bodies failed to stop dirty water flowing into the river, Seechewal launched a public-awareness campaign to encourage villagers to dispose of their sewage elsewhere.
Some villages revived traditional methods of waste disposal and treatment, and farmers lined up for a share of the treated water. After they could no longer deny the astonishing effects of Seechewal’s efforts, a government order to divert water from a nearby canal was finally obtained. As the riverbed was cleared, natural springs revived and the river began to fill up.
According to the India Times, not only did they clean it up and rejuvenate some parts of the river which had been dry for many years, but the team also worked hard to beautify the banks by planting trees.
With the restoration of its water flow, thousands of hectares of land have been reclaimed from water-logging in Tehsil Dasuya of Hoshiarpur District, from desertification in the Kapurthala district, and from floods in the Mand area of confluence of Beas and Satluj rivers.
After a 400-year long period of neglect and pollution, today, this once revolting river now teems with life and is a beautiful sight for all who live near it.
Seechewal’s mission teaches humanity a lesson of how to incite meaningful change — without the use of government force. For decades, people attempted to petition the government to halt the pollution of the Bein, but this was pointless. No action was ever taken.
Even if the government had “mandated” through the threat of force that the river not be polluted, many people would have ignored this as they had no other means or knowledge to act otherwise.
The only thing that saved this sacred river from becoming a flowing pit of toxic death was one man’s ability to lead by example, and the seeking of a lesser ignorance.
Instead of using force to make the residents along the Bein stop polluting, Seechewal and his team spread knowledge.
According to the India Times, Sant Seechewal’s works don’t stop there. He has also been involved in setting up schools, technical centers and degree colleges, and also works toward eradicating poverty, ignorance, superstition, and atrocities against women.
A crusader for the environment, Sant Seechewal has established plant nurseries at Seechewal and Sultanpur Lodhi where one lakh plants are distributed annually, free of cost.