Fellow Since 2004
This profile was prepared when Rakesh Kumar Jaiswal was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2004.
The New Idea
Rakesh is engaging religious leaders, scientists, students, journalists, public officers, lawyers, and other groups in improving the health of the 1,570-mile Ganga River, the chief source of drinking and irrigation water for more than one-third of India's population. Rakesh sees that many government-sponsored programs introduced in the past two decades have proved to be expensive and largely ineffective, in part because they fail to engage individuals and communities that live on the river and depend on it for their livelihood–farmers, pandas (Hindu priests who perform last rites for the dying), fishermen, boatmen, cremators (Dhanuks/Doms), and others. Through workshops, camps, school and community activities, and campaigns, Rakesh and his staff of volunteers are mobilizing communities to prevent further pollution and bring to public attention practices that stand out in clear violation of government regulations. To reach a broader audience, Rakesh assembles high-profile spokespeople, who offer public statements of support, and organizes campaigns to impress upon the public the urgency of this environmental and public health threat.