EcoSikh Helps Sikhs Green Their Holy Cities

Harvesting Black Gold from park waste at Zero Disposal Park (Photo via Facebook)
Harvesting Black Gold from park waste at Zero Disposal Park (Photo via Facebook)

Some religious groups are able to work with people and organizations from other countries to enact positive environmental change in communities, while raising awareness about issues like pollution and climate change. One such group connects Sikhism to these issues. EcoSikh is an international organization created in 2009 as part of a 5-year plan to make improvements in the environment. This partnership began at Windsor Castle to deal with climate issues and create strategies for conservation.

Bringing the Community Together

Sikhism is a religion practiced in Punjab, India founded by Guru Nanak Dev Ji. The followers believe that everyone has access to God, and that the Divine is found in everything. The faith also places an emphasis on community, justice, and equality. Sikhs recognize human responsibility toward nature. It is essential that human beings are in harmony with their surroundings, or degradation leads to crisis.

EcoSikh wants to do something about all the problems facing the environment today. Created by SCORE (Sikh Council on Religion and Education), it brings together members of the Sikh community in America and India to promote environmental stewardship. This initiative has a seed plan that covers 5 areas: Assets; Education; Media/Advocacy; Eco-twinning; and Celebration.

The plan will use these areas to reach out to people and enact change in Sikh communities. Through skills, educating others, taking action, and highlighting green accomplishments, EcoSikh aims to address environmental problems using environmental theology to show the connections between faith and sustainability. Invoking Guru Nanak, the initiative makes the case to recognize and take action on the problems facing the planet.

Recent Projects

In 2010, the initiative designated March 14th as Sikh Environment Day. The date already held significance with the Sikh calendar as it celebrates the Gurgadi Diwas of the 7th Guru, Guru Har Rai ji, and also because it marks the New Year according to the Nanakshaki Calendar. And now the day encourages Sikhs to get involved with nature preservation. Many organizations around the world take part by raising awareness, planting trees, cleaning up litter, and other activities.

“It will provide an opportunity to reflect upon our relationship with nature and mark a day on which we commit to environmental activism as followers of Guru Har Rai ji,” said the Chariman of SCORE, Dr. Rajwant Singh.

In 2012, Eco-Sikh signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Khalsa College Charitable Society to implement “Eco-Amritsar Initiative” — a move designed to make the holy city greener. Some of the provisions include water and energy audits, organic agriculture, a pilot pond as part of rain-harvesting, and planting trees and other native species. This is all to move the city towards a path of sustainability as per the city’s commitment to international Green Pilgrim City efforts launched in Assisi, Italy.

EcoSikh has also helped launch “Clean Nanded,” a drive to make the city of Nanded cleaner and more environmentally friendly. Like Amristar, Nanded is home to several historical religious sites and gets over thousands of pilgrims on an average day.

“Nanded receives over 25,000 pilgrims on an average day, which puts a lot of pressure on all the environmental resources such as water, air energy, and transport,” said Singh. “Hence, it is important for all of us to reduce pollution here for our future generations. We also have to sensitize the pilgrims to play a role in preserving the natural resources of this site.”

The Vision Ahead

Bandana Kaur, the North America program ambassador, explained the idea of EcoSikh. “The approach that faith gives to environmental issues — the approach that EcoSikh has worked with — is this idea of celebrating our own resources and our own traditions that connect to the environment.”

She further said, “Working through this sense of renewal, the power of lots of people putting effort into one thing at a time is the inspiration behind our movement.”  EcoSikh hopes to continue to spread sustainability in India and Sikh communities in other countries.

I was able to speak with Sumeet Kaur, the program manager on what the future of EcoSikh holds. “We really want to grow a lot. We have started some projects in India. In Amritsar, the holy city, we are doing some work. Over the last 20 years, the city has really degenerated. What we are trying to do now is clean up the area,” said Kaur. “We have petitioned the government to get Nanded into the Green Pilgrimage Network.”

Kaur sees the organization having a greater impact on communities. “We definitely have long-term projects in these cities. With continued partnerships and funding, we want to keep growing.”

If you are interested, you can donate or volunteer with EcoSikh. Go online to learn more.

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About the Author

Gina Merlino is a freelance writer who cares about environmental issues. She has a Bachelor's in Philosophy, a Master's in Engaged Humanities, and is an avid reader of the news. You can find me on Twitter.