Three years ago, Mata Amritanandamayi took an unusual break while giving customary darshan to visitors at her ashram — and spent time with a sizeable gathering of university students who had come to meet the humanitarian leader. That proved the genesis of a nationwide movement aimed at restoring India’s natural beauty.
Today, the pioneering Amala Bharatam Campaign (ABC) is poised to complete three years, as the Mata Amritanandamayi Math (MAM) is set to celebrate the 60th birthday of Amma next week. For, it was coinciding with her 57th birthday on September 27, 2010, that Amma — as the spiritual guru is known the world over — launched ABC that has since worked untiringly to clean India’s public spaces and promote health through hygiene besides sort, recycle and dispose waste.
The ABC coordinator for MAM’s Amrita University, Brahmachari Sudeep, recalls that the Independence Day of 2010 was nearing when Amma had a preparatory talk on the proposed celebrations with a group of students of Amrita University. “That was around the time Amma had learned about a foreigner’s book on India, ridiculing the country of its pollution,” adds the inmate, who is director of the 2003-founded university, a five-campus multi-disciplinary university.
The book that ridiculed India’s pollution pained Amma deeply, says Sudeep. “The Amrita University students had come with a proposal to MAM’s orphanage on that August 15, but the ashram founder proposed a grand set of plans about cleaning up certain stretches of Kollam district,” he adds.
Soon, Amma joined the students and ashramites in a survey of certain pockets around Karunagapally — the town nearest to the ashram. On the Independence Day of that year, 700-plus volunteers, armed with gloves, gumboots and sacks, moved out six truckloads of garbage alongside the highway, using rakers.
“The muck was brought to the ashram ground, dumped and left to dry. They were soon sorted and divided recyling,” Sudeep notes.
In terms of cleanliness, India is still “in diapers,” notes Amma. “Our lack of cleanliness should never again become a cause for international embarrassment. We should consider the task of keeping our homes, environment and public places clean a sacred duty,” she adds.
Spurred by the success of the clean-up operation of August 15, 2010, other branches of Amma’s ashram and Amrita University took up similar ventures. Soon, on September 27 that year, ABC saw its formal launch.
Sudeep recounts that a little over a month thence, on November 1 (Kerala state formation day), MAM launched a state-wide garbage-removal operation across the 14 districts — from Kasargod up north to Thiruvananthapuram down. “We mobilised students of schools and colleagues while cleaning up close to 70 pockets. The focus was public spaces: highways, junctions, bus-stands, markets, hospitals…”
Then came December-January, the annual pilgrim season for the famed Sabarimala temple. The hill-shrine on the banks of the Pampa in south-central Pathanamthitta district, had for long earned the reputation of an unclean pilgrim centre. The MAM deployed 5,000 volunteers — 3,000 of them worked at Sannidhanam (the complex around the shrine) and the rest along the river below.
“The Sabarimala clean-up has since become an annual feature in MAM calendar,” Sudeep reveals.
Also, the ABC spread its area to outside Kerala by launching an all-India tour in early 2011. A team of two dozen Amala Bharatam volunteers, mostly Westerners at the ashram, would be typically part of Amma’s itineraries along the length and breadth of the country. To date, more than 1,000 cleanliness drives have been conducted.
“Be it Mangalore, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand or Kolkata, the team would be busy cleaning up the locality even as Amma would give her speech and darshan at the scheduled venues,” says Sudeep. “They would categorise the waste, dispose each section properly and recycle as much as possible.”
Back in Kerala, of late, ABC has in various places tied up with functionaries of Kudumbasree, a government-initiated anti-poverty scheme powered by self-help groups. “In fact, MAM’s initial moves in the direction of public cleaning traces back to the mid-1990s. But ABC has given it a vast perception and strong direction,” he says.