Every year, Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated with a grandeur in Mumbai, and one can find a Ganesh idol in almost every lane of the city. This 10-day religious festival is almost like a grand celebration where people bring lord Ganesha's idols at home and in pandals (marquees). The festivity ends with the immersion of Ganesh idols on the 11th day, which people worship with great devotion. Since most of the large idols are composed of Plaster of Paris (POP) and other artificial substances, these idols do not always break down and can persist in the sea for an extended period, posing a threat to aquatic life. Change is Us tries to solve this problem by organizing post–Visarjan beach clean-up drives in the city.
The Inception of the Post-Visarjan Drives
Being devotees of Lord Ganesh themselves, Shubh Mehta and Akshat Shah, the founders of the Change is Us also participate in the Ganesh visarjan during the time of the festival. To them, this festival is a commitment to service and they strongly advocate for sustainable participation. Since the inception of Change Is Us, the team has conducted 5 beach cleanups in Girgaon Chowpatty – where almost all the major and well-known Ganesh idols of Mumbai are immersed.
During an interview with Local Samosa, Shubh Mehta, the co-founder of Change is Us says that initially, people questioned them on why only this festival is picked up for conducting such drives, and not any other celebration. “For us, it is not about any religion, it is always about raising awareness about the sustainability of the environment and doing our part as responsible citizens.” Shubh further emphasizes that they conduct beach clean-up drives every week and have been doing this for 165 weeks consistently. So, it is not about any particular festival or religion, it is more about the protection of the environment. “The team of 80 members including around 20,000 volunteers that have collected about 450 tons of waste over the past 5 years have kept us all going amidst the setbacks,” says the co-founder.
Continuing the ritual, this year they conducted a 3-day cleanup on September 29, 30 and October 1, where they got around 3,700 volunteers, which is Mumbai's largest post visarjan beach clean up, states the co-founder. During this cleanup, the team collected a staggering amount of 40 metric tons of waste (nearly 40,000 kgs), which includes other waste along with the Ganesh idols. The collection involves a lot of difficulties. The smaller idols are easy to carry and clear out from the beach but it is very difficult to remove the bigger idols. Most of the time they are broken by the forces of nature but sometimes they have to be carried out of the water using cranes.
But what happens to the idols after they are collected from the beaches?
A bigger role is played by the BMC after the idols are collected during these drives. The co-founder noted that organizations such as Change is Us are prohibited from directly disposing off the idols due to the sensitive nature of the matter tied to religious sentiments. According to him, the BMC has its own procedures to respectfully place the idols in the appropriate locations.
The festival of Ganesh Chaturthi concludes with a grand procession with drums and dance but the procession will only reach its final destination when people are more aware of the environment and do their part in taking care of Mother Earth, post-celebrations.