SEWA SAHYOG : INITIATIVE FOR CLEAN PILGRIMAGE

Pandharpur, a small town in Solapur district of south Maharashtra is popularly known as Kashi of South (Dakshin Kashi). It’s Deity - Vitthal allies Pandurang is worshipped not only in Maharashtra, but also in neighbouring Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Gujrat. The biennial pilgrimage called “Waari” is very popular in Maharashtra, north Karnataka and parts of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. It has recorded tradition of thousands of years. The pilgrims known as “Warkaris” are mostly farmers and also professionals from traditional vocations and are from across the cast and creed. This pilgrimage carried out four times a year - in Hindu months of Ashadh, Kartik, Magh and Chaitra. Out of which Ashadh Shukla Ekadashi (11th day of first fortnight) and Kartik Shukla Ekadashi are known as Maha Ekadashi days and are observed all over the Maharashtra and in entire south. The Waari is a pilgrimage on foot which reaches Pandharpur on these Maha Ekadashi days from all over the state. There are two main Waari Palakhis (palanquins) or Chariots - first is Saint Tukaram’s Palakhi from Dehu and second one is Saint Jnaneshwar’s Palakhi from Alandi, both near Pune. Both the chariots come together at Pune and then take different roots to reach Pandharpur.
The Problem
The main problem Waari pilgrimage lefts behind is huge pile of human excreta en-route as there is almost no existence of public toilet facilities that will cop up the huge crowd in the Waari. Traditionally, these pilgrims used to “go outside” using whatever open land, farms etc they can use on the routes of Waari to defecate and urinate. As the number of pilgrims in Waari is ever increasing, the problem this open defecation creates is huge. It challenges the health of the villagers on the route of Waari. There must be some system before Bruisers to clear up this menace, some experts claim, as there is no record of any epidemic due to or during Waari pilgrimage. But currently, this open defecation is a huge problem. Some NGOs also went to court to even try to stop this entire pilgrimage only on the grounds of this point. 
Sewa Sahayog Initiative
Here came a timely initiative by Sewa Sahayog Foundation, a Pune based NGO. 12 months ago, one of its members, Narendra Vaishampayan, an IT engineer employed at Infosys Pune, went on a study spree searching for the solution. He visited many places and studied how this problem should be handled. Narendra came up with a solution which was easy to maintain. He suggested a Toilet Bus - that would have 4 to 6 units inbuilt and have proper sanitation mechanism, water storage facilities and ventilation. But this suggestion was rejected by many on the grounds of capital cost involved and vehicle maintenance costs. The number of buses that were required was also too high.
Success in Loni and Yavat
Sewa Sahyog found a co-traveller on this path in ex BJP MP Pradip allies Dada Rawat. Rawat also had started campaigning among the pilgrims’ Dindis against open defecation and was in search of a solution to this problem. RSS Pashchim Maharashtra Prant unit was also working on the same lines. Narendra along with one of the founders of Sewa Sahayog, Ajinkya Kulkarni, met all these people and convinced them to work together to tackle this social issue. Six months ago, around February first week,  a meeting was held which was participated by Narendra, Ajinkya, Sewa Sahayog director Rachana Shaha, Suvarna Upalap, RSS Western Maharashtra Prant-Prachark Atul Limaye, RSS Western Maharashtra Sampark Pramukh Sandip Jadhav, Pradip dada Rawat and many others. This team deliberated on many solutions thought before and their pros and cons. They finalised the foldable toilet solution and distributed the responsibilities among them for this campaign. The end result was indeed very encouraging. Two villages on the Waari routes were taken for this experiment - Loni and Yavat. In both the villages, the villagers are fully satisfied and happy as there is no stink and health hazard which they faced every year after Waari left. Many pilgrims thanked Sewa Sahayog for this unique project. 
Pandharpur Experiment
The success in Loni and Yavat encouraged the Sewa Sahayog team to take this experiment to Pandharpur - the Waari destination.  The problem here was different. Large number of pilgrims which reach Pandharpur for waari on Ahsadhi and Kartiki Ekadashi are far more than the registered Dindis. These individual pilgrims are unorganised and campaigning among them would mean greater force of volunteers and also more number of toilets and more distributed toilet blocks to cop up the huge crowds and cover up all areas of Pandharpur town. Pandharpur municipality and Sewa Sahayog identified spots that would require these foldable toilet blocks. Zilha Parishad first time made available organised camp sites for the pilgrims, which used to camp anywhere in the vicinity. Sewa Sahayog and RSS took responsibility of the Chandra-bhaga River dessert which was the real menace till last year due to open defecation. The problem was so grave that some NGOs went to courts and even the courts threatened to ban this entire historical traditional pilgrimage only due to open defecation problem. Sewa Sahayog’s initiative came handy in time, although it had nothing to do with court threat. Narendra Vaishampayan, who came up with the solution of foldable toilets, told the Organiser that he had started working on the problem very early and till he came to know about the court case, he had the solution ready, Sewa Sahayog erected more than 1,000 foldable toilets across the town of which 250 were on dessert itself. Suction tankers were used to clean up these toilets. Municipality peovided the water connections and also few cleaning staff. 
While watching the efforts of the team, the Organiser spoke with many pilgrims on the dessert of Chandrabhaga River, the day before Ashadhi Ekadashi. The crowds started pouring in already and the dessert was already full with the pilgrims who came for a holy bath. One Shrimati Changuna, aged 65 who was from Nanded district expressed her joy and said, “The God Vitthal will bless who came up with this solution”. She also suggested that the volunteers may also use force to stop people from defecating in open. This year more than the 90 percent of dessert remained clean due to these efforts of Sewa Sahayog and RSS.
Shri Adinath, aged 65 from Degaon near Pandharpur said that the volunteers must use force to teach pilgrims how to maintain cleanliness. He said that he had seen Waari from his childhood and this year is cleanest among them.
Pune’s Ex-MP Pradip Dada Rawat said, “We have to work hard to achieve Swachchha Bharat dream in every sector.” RSS Wester Maharashtra Prant Sampark Pramukh Sandip Jadhav was involved in coordination throughout the campaign, he informed the Organiser. Along with Sewa Sahayog’s 100 plus volunteers, the RSS had deployed volunteer force of 400 youngsters from the vicinity of Pandharpur in batches so as to cover the campaign round the clock on the crowded days. These efforts also covered the village of Vakhari, which is the traditional last half of the pilgrims, before Pandharpur and where all the Dindis and Palanquins come together. Santosh Dabhade, Dhananjay Wadekar, Maruti Aba Tupe, Nandkishor Kalbhor, Balasaheb Amrale were among the main volunteers who took special efforts for this toilet project. Rawat remained in Pandharpur for entire campaign, while other volunteers came in batches. RSS Vibhag Pravharak Anna Pandit and Pandharpur Pracharak Mangesh Badave personally guided the planning and helped volunteers scheduling. 
The Organiser also spoke to Deputy Collector Dinesh Bhaledar and DSP Shri Karande who were in-charge of camp site created by government for the pilgrims. The site was also equipped with the same foldable toilets. The Government’s efforts are more organised but they remain insufficient in the scale to cop up the crowds. While Sewa Sahayog and RSS efforts were more distributed in three to four places and were making use of available volunteer force fullest to the scale, the efforts were still insufficient for the crowds in Pandharpur. Ajinkya Kulkarni and Pradip dada Rawat both at different locations and time told the Organiser.                  

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