ECO TALK
 

Jacek Bozek is a Polish river activist who is striving hard to save the Vistula river in Europe. Founder of the GAJA club, Jacek is helped by his wife Beata in the group's activities. Recently, he was in Kanpur and Eco Friends took the opportunity to speak to him and find out what he thought of Ganga's pollution.

Tell us something about your childhood.

I grew up in the southern part of Poland. I had a brother. I used to stay pretty ill. When I was young, I spent a lot of time in hospitals due to my sickness. After that when I turned 14-15, I travelled central Europe-Hungary, Czek and Russia. I was never a good student. All my education is from my life and from my travelling experiences. Gradually as I reached 20-21, I became a much more social person and broke-free. I started the Indo-Polish Association. I read books on Hinduism, Buddhism and Yoga. Indian spirituality touched me a lot. It was my impression that people in India were very spiritual. I also practised Hatha Yoga. I taught Hatha Yoga for seven years. Simultaneously, I brought out a newsletter 'Free Tibet'.

When did you start the GAJA Club?

In 1988. Then Poland was still a communist country and I was 30. We started from the scratch. We started from one room office. We believed that we would be able to change the world. The club was my idea and I invited people to support it. Most of the people who joined it were those who practiced Hatha Yoga with me. The GAJA Club changed my life altogether. I had to learn many new skills like how to lead an organisation. I got good support from the Rainforest Information Centre in Australia. They invited me to Australia and I spent six months at their center. After the communist regime ended, we registered GAJA club in 1992.

Our club has grown gradually and now we have our headquarters in Wilkowka and another office in Warsaw. Today we have around 10 full-time workers and 3,000 volunteers all over the world. We have GAJA Club in England.

What kind of work does GAJA do?

We have two big campaigns. One of the campaigns is called Vistula. Now which makes people aware about the growing pollution in Vistula river and the politics behind it. Another campaign called Animal Is Not The Thing is about safeguarding animal rights. We also have a human right campaign and a programme called Art For Earth through which we promote theatre, music and painting associated with nature. Another campaign is named Local Earth. We have a programme for international volunteers in which they go from one country to the other.

Can you please tell us about your campaign for saving Vistula river?

We started this campaign because a few years ago we got information that our government wants to built around eight dams. Vistula is last big white river in Europe. So it was crucial that we protested the construction of these ecologically damaging dams. The Vistula symbolized Polish culture and was important for animals and birds. It was a haven for migratory birds who came from Scandanivia to Africa. The Vistula river is an ecological corridor for the entire Europe. We started newsletter on Vistula, made films on the river, travelled, held exhibitions here and there and in Polish Parliament to bring to the knowledge how safe the river would be if the dams are built. We cooperate very closely with the media. The BBC and Newsweek has given coverage to our Vistula campaign. We also cooperate with local authorities who denounce dams. Three years back, after the WWF chose Vistula as one of the most important rivers around the world, our campaign got a new momentum. Now we are talking to the European Parliament and the Commission of European Union. We deem it as GAJA's success that now Vistula has gained international importance. Also, Water Framework Directive is a new European law that lays appropriate ways for water management.

This is your third visit to India. How do you find it?

Eighteen years ago, we visited India for the last time. I only travelled in India as a tourist. This time I am having a close look at the reality. The other day I was amazed to see residents in Motipur village in Kanpur living in terrible circumstances. I found that the tannery wastewater is being directed to them and a host of skin problems are afflicting them.

I find the traffic nightmarish. And the numbers of cars in Delhi is crazy.

How do you find Ganga?

In Polish culture, people have a close connection with forests. But they see rivers only as water, unlike in India. When I came to India to understand the spirituality that Indians associate with rivers. I was surprised to see people being able to look at river as their mother. Ganga is seen as a mother and as a being. Nobody in Europe thinks like that. I felt it was true that river is a living entity.

But why do they pollute Ganga then?

Most things in this country are a paradox. If I do not use the word paradox, I can't understand India. But Ganga is something much more than a paradox. I do not understand the dichotomy in the behaviour of these people towards Ganga. They call it as their mother and at the same time, dump garbage in the river.

How can the face of Ganga be changed?

We need good leaders who can lead us towards the right direction. People have to cooperate in this whole process. We have to start educating people, tell them why we have protect Ganga, how to protect it and what is the cost of doing that. We have to choose good politicians. We have to save the river not only for animals and birds but also for people who live on the banks of the river. They have to made to realize that they can earn their livelihood not only through fishing, farming but also from tourists and visitors coming on to the banks.

 

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