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Winter Is Coming, Delhi. You’re Going To Choke Again

As that smog thickens and thickens, it chokes the life out of millions of innocent people. It destroys the vitality of flora and takes the blue out of the sky making everything look dusted and dull. The beloved nature is nowhere to be found.

Delhi, the city of contrasts, claims the top spot on the list of world’s mega cities with the worst air quality, according to a World Health Organisation, 2016 report. Delhi being the capital city, a lot of priority is given to its development and welfare, more than any other city in the country. But when it comes to pollution control, that doesn’t happen. The main sources of Delhi’s pollution are its industrial waste and vehicular movements. Analysis of WHO’s 2016 report on global ambient air pollution shows us that New Delhi has a PM10 level of 229 µg/m³, the only city in the world to have exceeded the 200 µg/m³ level. According to the WHO guidelines 20 µg/m³ is the apt air quality standard.

Delhiites will remember the morning of the day after Diwali in November last year when they woke up to a sky with no blue and white in it. A smog so thick it felt like we had jumped right into foggy January. Those in the need of the cloak of invisibility didn’t need it that day, the smog did it for you. During this phase, which is also known as the “Great Smog of Delhi”, the PM 2.5 levels shot up to 743 against recommended 60 micrograms. Similarly with the PM10 levels case, where it reached to 999 against its 100 micrograms limit. People suffered from irritation in eyes, allergies, breathlessness, and constriction in the chest area. Asthma patients in the city faced breathing difficulties and many workers had to take sick leaves. But high levels of air pollution is not something new to the city. The graph below that was presented in Rajya Sabha by the Minister of State, Ms Jayanti Natarajan, in March 2012 bears testimony to that.

 

During this period, CNG program was introduced in Delhi which aimed to solve a large chunk of problems. Slowly with time, the benefits of CNG vanished since more vehicles came on the road, no regulation of freight movement and trucks carrying debris and construction material was done. The pursuit of industrial growth and demand for more energy (electricity) kept taking a big toll on the city. Every year we faced this problem of nasty air and every year we moved on with lame solutions.

Which brings us to very fundamental questions which every individual must ask: what have we done to tackle this dire pollution problem of Delhi? What has caused Delhi’s pollution to rise every year? What has the government been doing the past decade? Do we have a solution to curb this?

The problems and solutions lie within the city itself. But to begin, the first question must be asked to Delhi is this: why has the city been in denial about its pollution problems?  One could ask a layman in Delhi if the city is polluted and would find the basic stereotypical answers. For Instance, the most common one would be, “No! The City has a lot of trees and greenery, it can’t be polluted.” Pollution levels have gone up year after year but the city doesn’t seem to notice.

Last year, the day after Diwali when the smog had taken over the city, people wore shawls and sweaters in the day assuming the smog as cold fog whereas the temperatures were quite normal. The people couldn’t identify that it is air pollution. The same day people were still burning crackers irrespective of the fact that smog was at its peak. There is a dire need for spreading awareness amongst the citizens of not only Delhi but the whole country. Across the political spectrum, there is no talk of agendas required for curbing air pollution. It doesn’t even come in mainstream political discussions and a blind eye is what this situation always gets.

Yes! Odd-Even Rule happened in Delhi. Talking about whether it was a success or failure will be nothing short of opening Pandora’s Box. But the fact of the matter is it was at least one courageous move towards curbing air pollution. The second trial had extremely disappointing results because the people had already understood the loopholes and we, after all, are a “jugaadu city”.

Winter is Coming” as Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell says. The air pollution level in New Delhi will begin to increase drastically with the onset of winter. During the winters, the air quality in the city worsens due to a certain increase in seasonal activities and the changes in meteorological forces. As winter approaches, people burn biomass to warm their homes and farmers burn their stubble at the end of harvest season, and that produces a lot of smoke in the air. This mixes with the ground air since cold air during the winters gets stagnated over the city forcing people to breathe polluted air. And the everyday winter fog worsens it.

New Delhi is our nation’s pride and home to billions of dreams. We must protect it. The people and the government must stop denying the attention this problem deserves. According to The New York Times, “New Delhi’s current particulate levels are as dangerous to the city’s 20 million residents as smoking more than two packs of cigarettes every day”. The WHO states that in Delhi, poor quality air has damaging effects on the lungs of 2.2 million or 50 percent of all children. There is no dearth of data to prove how menacing the air over Delhi has become.

There is a need for a comprehensive strategy to fix this problem. The Delhi government should start regulating the vehicles on the road. Recent reports from the transport department of the Delhi government states that 10,567,712 vehicles are registered as of May 25. A smart integrated public transport system is required. The governments should not wait until winters when the panic stricken people and media come knocking at their doors. All the industries releasing smoke must be removed from the NCR area. An extensive air quality information dispersal system must be established for the safety of the people.

We may take some cue from countries where such health alert networks are already established that spread information through text messages and TV news tickers. In Beijing, there are sirens placed to inform public when the air quality has reached harmful levels. At the end of the day, it is us who have to fight for our right to life which is a fundamental right under the Constitution of India. Awareness among the people is the first step toward this fight. This campaign against pollution needs the participation of all institutions. The media, schools, colleges, civil society members, the state government, and the central government, all need to be equal participants in this process of fighting air pollution.

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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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign.

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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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.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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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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