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4 Common Excuses Delhi People Give To Justify The Dangerous Pollution In Their City

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By Divya Sahasrabuddhe:

In early May, the World Health Organization released a database ranking outdoor air pollution in cities, with Delhi in first place. Now, I’ve never been to Beijing, but I’ve spent long enough in India’s capital to not be surprised by these findings. My time here has been a year and a half long festival of chest infections and skin trouble, an introduction to stronger medication for what were once only mild allergic reactions, and a constant feeling of bewilderment at the underwhelming reaction of Delhi’s people. The weather forecast on my phone once gave me the temperature, and an icon, accompanied by a one-word description of how the day was expected to be. More often than not, that word alternated between (and I kid you not) “smog” and “dreary”. Needless to say, the weather app was disabled soon after.

Whenever I discuss the issue with someone who, not unlike me, has moved to Delhi from a smaller and less hectic place, the verdict is instant and mutual — a shared sense of frustration at the present circumstances and at the casual response it gets. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for a conversation with someone who hails from here, or has lived in Delhi long enough to call it home. A standard handful of excuses crop up each time, and while one can admire the “looking on the bright side” approach to such a dismal situation, I wonder for how much longer they will live in denial before they take the initiative to do their bit. Here are the most common defensive opinions that Delhi-ites have on these out-of-control air pollution levels, and my counter argument.

1. Delhi is also one of the greenest cities in India, and possibly in the world

First of all, I checked. Statistically, Delhi may be one of India’s greener metros, but it isn’t one of India’s greenest cities, and it’s certainly not in the top green cities in the world. It does, admittedly, abound in parks, gardens, and manicured lawns, and the city does take pride in them and their upkeep. While any kind of vegetation does hold the soil together and draws a bit more rain, I’m not entirely sure if lawns are the way to go. Grass requires a lot of water to survive, and Delhi’s water problems are no secret.

Forest coverage definitely acts as some kind of sink for the CO2 emissions in the region, but the ratio of greenhouses gases to trees is drastically skewed. Additionally, CO2 isn’t the only toxin released into the air, and photosynthesis can’t take care of the rest. Doesn’t it make you wonder how much worse Delhi’s air would be if there were even less greenery? The prospect is frightening.

2. It used to be a lot worse. The Delhi Metro and restriction of LPG usage has made a huge difference to the air quality.

I don’t know how strong an argument I have for this, as I didn’t live here 10 years ago, but the fact of the matter is Delhi’s air pollution is the worst in the world today. We do have to make some allowances for the pollution that arises from the construction of the next phase of the metro lines (in the hope that the final result will aid in reducing emission from vehicular traffic) and other developmental projects, but that’s only a fraction of the total.

3. Delhi is better than Beijing, people just want to give it a bad name.

When I did poorly in a test in school and had to face my mother’s displeasure, I always said, “but they got even less,” to which she always responded with: “I don’t care about other people’s scores, I only care about yours.” Ironically, 15 years down the line, I find myself using this philosophy on such a completely different subject.

For starters, Delhi has veritably defeated Beijing in the race to become the world’s most polluted city. It is also not the only Indian city to feature at the top of the list, and no amount of repudiation from any politician or policy maker will change or fix the reality. Back when China was ahead of us in the worldwide rankings, there was concern among its entire population. In 2013, Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau announced plans to invest 300 billion Yuan to reduce levels of PM2.5, and the state has taken other active measures to deter further damage, including restricting the number of cars sold annually and investing heavily in public transport. As you can see, India has responded somewhat differently to the news.

Secondly, with its global (but honest) image of being an extremely unsafe city — for women, its road rage, and its frequent, rampant outbreaks of dengue and other exotic illnesses — the public’s perception of Delhi in the world, and even among other Indians, is already poor. No one needs to concoct another story or devise another reason to give it one. Regarding this as negative propaganda is another (slightly absurd) form of denial.

4. A lot of the dust problems arise from sandstorms that come from Rajasthan.

While weathering is a very real and undeniable phenomenon of nature, we can’t attribute it all to the degradation of the Aravallis. The range that once acted as a protective barrier from the harsh hot winds that traveled from the Thar Desert bringing dust and sand no longer stands between the two states. Wild construction and other non-forestry activity in the name of progress led to a large portion of the mountains being broken down, giving free entry to the unwanted dust storms. Erosion of the Aravallis has also caused considerable loss of habitat for the wildlife that once survived there, and has increased the region’s susceptibility to floods and droughts.

Apart from each individual attempt to justify or dismiss the alarming reality, what I find most worrisome is that these excuses come from those from a similarly privileged background as mine — one that exposed us to pressing current issues, and that has educated us to not only learn about and understand them, but also take preventive and remedial action. The same people who travel from air-conditioned houses to air-conditioned offices in air-conditioned cars, often even when the metro is a convenient and more practical way to go. By doing just this, we’re adding to the evils in the air and to the brutal heat that we love to hate. Our luxurious lifestyles have made us unaware to the plight faced by those who live in conditions ill-equipped to counter the harsh effects of Delhi’s seasonal weather: the open-air commuters — cyclists, pedestrians, regular patrons of auto and cycle-rickshaws, and the even less fortunate. A certain amount of pollution is inevitable, but the so-called “development” that is happening at the expense of our health is not sufficient justification.

The longer we ignore the problem, the more severe it will get. Our pseudo-concern will rectify nothing, and our “deal with it” or “chalta hai” attitude to life is our greatest failing. Our nation is 1 billion strong. Let’s not wait for the policy makers to decide what to do. Let’s not just talk about it. Let’s actively use the metro that we love to glamourise to the rest of the country, let’s walk the short distances, let’s use the bicycle lanes for what they were built for and not to cut the line at a traffic light in our cars, and let’s not run our ACs at 24 degrees when it’s 26 outside.

During this past election, I was disappointed, to say the least, when no party raised environmental issues on their agenda. It’s time to stop adopting an “out of sight, out of mind” outlook towards life. The words ‘development’, ‘growth’, and ‘progress’ that we hear so often will mean nothing the day our ecosystem can no longer support us and give us the things we’ve taken for granted all these years — fresh air, clean water, and food — and when the effects of climate change damage not just islands, coastal towns, and rural dwellings, but the buzzing metropolises that the world is so proud of.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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