Vijah Ramjattan, like many other people in South Queens, wishes he could safely walk along the shores of Jamaica Bay.
“But you can’t,” he said. “There’s broken glass everywhere, and the water is polluted. It’s not clean.”
The water has been polluted for years due to followers of Hinduism and other religions dumping articles of clothing, picture frames, animal carcasses and other trash into the bay during religious rituals.
Environmental activists have for years been calling on the National Parks Service to address the issue.
But Ramjattan, a faithful Hindu, believes it can’t be up to the federal government alone to fix the problem — and that worshipers need to start picking up after themselves.
“If we want to continue doing what we’re doing, we need to protect the Mother Earth,” he said. “We can’t destroy the very life that she sustains.”
Last month, the Jamaica resident founded the United Madrassi Foundation Inc., an organization that will work on a variety of issues in the community — including, making sure Jamaica Bay is a clean, safe place for everyone to enjoy.
The group will hold its first beach cleaning event Sun., Oct. 15 from 2 to 5 p.m. on the south Broad Channel parking lot at the foot of the Joseph P. Addabbo Memorial Bridge. If time permits, the volunteers will work their way to the north parking lot.
Some Hindus bring offerings — sometimes coconuts or flowers but also include non-biodegradable materials — to the bay and offer it to the goddess Ganga, who brings healing and fertility.
The practicers believe the items must go into the water for them to be offered to her.
Other rituals call for the ashes of loved ones to be released into the water and for the hair of infants to be cut on the beach and dropped into the bay.
Ramjattan hopes to convince worshipers to not leave items in the water, saying it’s unnecessary.
“You can take your items, dip it into the water and say your prayers,” he said. “Say ‘I am offering this to you’ and then take it back and throw it out.”
He’s already run into some resistance.
“There’s always going to be people who say that’s the way it needs to be done,” he said.
And while it might be too late to change the mind of some longtime worshipers, Ramjattan says this is a perfect opportunity to educate the youth.
“This is a start,” he said. “Let’s start teaching them while they’re young and by the time they’re older, they’ll know better.”
But the bigger problem, according to the activist, is that many temples are unwilling to accept responsibility for the littering.
“They all just want to point fingers and not do anything about it,” Ramjattan said. “Let’s just do something about it.”
He added that while Hindus are not the only ones to perform rituals on Jamaica Bay’s shores — practicers of Voodoo and Santeria have also been found there — he understands why the faith has become the face of the issue.
“We’re the only ones who do it in broad daylight,” Ramjattan said. “Everyone else is sneaking around doing it at night.”