News / USA

New York Bay Cleanup Focuses on Hindu Ritual Items

Hindu-Americans pick up litter at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge

The cleanup volunteers accumulate a pile of prayer flags, saris and other trash left over from sacred Hindu ceremonies.
The cleanup volunteers accumulate a pile of prayer flags, saris and other trash left over from sacred Hindu ceremonies.

Multimedia

Audio

The sound of gentle waves and the call of wild shorebirds are normally all you can hear on the shores of Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, an oasis of nature just a few kilometers from  the bustling urban heart of Queens, New York. But today, there is work to do.

More than 100 Hindu-Americans of various ages, along with U.S. Park Service rangers and other volunteers comb the shoreline picking up tattered prayer flags, bits of votive candles, statues and other Hindu ritual items that have been accumulating here over the past year.

"We were very, very disgusted and upset and embarrassed because some of the litter is from members of our religious community," says community leader Naidoo Veerapen, who has helped organize these annual cleanups for the past five years. "We thought this was no way to treat one of the beaches of the community in which we live."

Coconut shells might be tasty to the Hindu gods but they can also poison the fish in Jamaica Bay.
Coconut shells might be tasty to the Hindu gods but they can also poison the fish in Jamaica Bay.

River water is an important element in the Hindu religion, which views India’s Ganges River as divine. "And we see the seas and rivers as a representation of Mother Ganga, which nourishes the earth, makes the soil fertile and brings us food. And so our offerings of food, et cetera, are released into the water. In India it’s done that way and we try to copy that ritual here."

Religious leader Phoj Dinidayal says that, because many Hindus believe the Ganges River is holy and pure, they think that whatever is placed in it also becomes pure and will not pollute. But he says he knows now that there is a natural as well as a spiritual reason that Jamaica Bay can be polluted by religious sacrifices.

"The Ganges is flowing one way only. Water does not return. So whatever you throw into the Ganges, it flows into the ocean.  Whereas in a bay like this, water comes and goes with ebb tide and high tide and whatever you pour into the water comes back to the shore. So there is a significant difference."  

There are other reasons leaving items on the shore or in these waters can harm nature. Fish, shorebirds and other marine animals can become entangled by cloth and other inorganic materials and can be poisoned when ritual items decompose in the water.  

Organic offerings such as coconuts and bananas, flowers and candy also pose a danger to wildlife.

The group prepares to end the cleanup with a Hindu prayer.
The group prepares to end the cleanup with a Hindu prayer.

"If animals do eat these items, it’s going to interrupt their natural cycles, their natural migrations," says Kathy Krause, the U.S. National Park Service official who has been responsible for reaching out to the Hindu community on this issue. "It’s going to get them used to people - which they should not be because they are wildlife. So all of these things can really be harmful to the balance of nature."

Krause adds that organic materials also harm the bay’s ecosystem by releasing excess nutrients as they break down.  

"You’d think that maybe throwing a banana peel or a banana into a body of water that’s 85 square kilometers large might not be a problem. But the issue becomes one of scale. Algae overgrow. It also uses up precious oxygen in the system. So we all need to do whatever we can not only to not leave things but really to educate people about what makes these systems tick."

Krause says the cleanup efforts are proof that the community puts great value on wild places like the Jamaica Bay refuge. "It really shows a shared stewardship for the Earth and for the waters. That’s one thing we have in common. We all have a great reverence for the ocean and for nature."   

Indeed, there is reverence and satisfaction on the volunteers’ faces as they survey the mound of garbage bags they have filled today. They end their park cleanup with a group mantra or prayer, which translates as:     

"You are like my mother, my father and my friend. Besides that, you bestow to us knowledge and wisdom. So lead me, help me, to perform action that will eventually lead  to salvation."

You May Like

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid