Temsutula Imsong has been in the limelight for cleaning several ghats on the banks of the river Ganga in Varanasi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency. She, along with her team, has been working towards cleaning the ghats under a mission named, “Mission Parijat.” Also the founder of Sakaar, an NGO working for rural development in several villages across India, Imsong spoke to The Sunday Guardian. Excerpts:

Q: What made you to take up the cleaning of Varanasi’s ghats?

A: When I came to this city long back and visited the ghats, they were completely filled with dirt. When I came back here after several years, it was the same situation. It made me think why we cannot unite and make Ganga and its ghats clean, as we are the ones who use them and should be responsible for cleaning them as well. I left my job in Delhi and started an NGO for teaching kids and villagers in Delhi. When I moved to Varanasi, I thought of taking up this mission through my NGO.

Q: What motivated you to take up this herculean task?

A: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech on cleaning the ghats and the Ganga motivated us and even without the support from any government agency or organisation, we took up the task of cleaning the ghats here to fulfil the wishes of the PM.

Q: How difficult was the task?

A: When we thought of cleaning the ghats, the idea seemed simple as we thought it was just silt, but the reality was different. We started with the Prabhu Ghat on 18 March 2015 with just five-six of us. The ghat was filled with mud, sludge, silt, and human excreta, and many other things all over. The next, Babua Pandey Ghat, was filled with big boulders, construction material, saris, and other things. This is when I thought we would not be able to do it, but my team insisted we should not quit and that gave me more strength. It was a coordinated effort and within a week, we made this ghat accessible to people. This was our first achievement.

Q:  Did you receive any help from the locals?

A: When we started, there were not many volunteers with us. We asked people to join us and made them realise that it is for their good. Slowly, people started joining us in the cleaning process and people from all walks of life supported us.

Q: How many ghats have you cleaned?

A: In all, seven.

Q: What were the major hurdles you faced in the process?

A: Insensitivity of the people. Open defecation was one of the major hurdles and even after our cleaning, the defecation in the ghats won’t stop. For a few nights, our volunteers guarded the ghats. We found that those who continued with the defecation were among the poorest people in society who did not even have the money to use a paid toilet in the locality. We tried to make them understand the ill effects of open defecation and managed to do so successfully.

Q: How did you manage to maintain the ghats after cleaning them once?

A: Our movement was not for a single day; it is a continuous process. Every evening, our teams visit every ghat, and if we find people littering, we politely tell them not to and use the dustbins that have been placed there by several companies as part of their CSR programmes. The companies have built toilets near the ghats and installed solar powered lamps. The ghats are also broomed every two hours.

Q: Have you received any appreciation from the Prime Minister for your work?

A: The Prime Minister has appreciated our work on several occasions in India and abroad. The PM even invited us to his 7 RCR residence on 1 July last year and commended us for our work and told us to continue with it.

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