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Turning To God Could Actually Solve North India’s Toxic Smog Problem

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It was a typical summer day at Punjab’s Sultanpur Lodhi railway station. It was a hot and humid day in June 2016.

A group of volunteers were working under the sun, in an open space adjacent to the railway station. Their sleeves and pant-legs were rolled-up. They were determined and were clearing the solid human waste accumulated there over the years. By the evening, their hard work started reflecting, as local people from the area arrived for an evening walk.

The cleanup drive was called by Baba Seechewal. And this is just a small side-story of the Kali Bein river project, started by the Ek Onkar Charitable Trust of Baba Seechewal. Baba Seechewal aka Eco Baba is the face of the revival of a 160km long Kali Bein river in Doab region of Punjab.

The nearby villages were always there, watching the river die slowly. But what motivated them to step knee-deep into the wastewater, and create a temporary barrage to divert the wastewater to a nearby treatment plant suddenly? What drove them to clean the piled up human waste and dirt, whose smell and site they could not stand?

The answer to this question is – religion!

The philosophy of ‘one universal God’, first emerged at the Sultanpur Lodhi at the banks of Kali Bein. Its the site of first Gurbani by the first Sikh guru, Guru Nanak Dev. Hence the site becomes the first pilgrimage for the followers of Guru Nanak Dev.

Delhi NCR is suffocating under a thick blanket of smog. The air quality has dipped down to dangerous levels. The presence of particulate matter is extremely high. It is not a new problem for northern states of India, but every coming year its magnitude is increasing.

In the wake of this hazardous situation, the Supreme Court of India put a ban on the sale of crackers. Since the SC decision came just before the grand Hindu festival – Diwali, as expected, the decision observed criticism from many right-wing leaders, thinkers and traditionalist Hindus.

If we observe the social evolution of humans, we learnt agriculture much earlier than we started practising religion. There are many proofs that our festivals were a celebration of nature more than the religion.

Whether it is Holi, Diwali, Sankranti, Lohdi or any other festival, with it can be observed that the offerings made to the gods on Hindu festivals are mostly eatables made from the grains of the new crop. The idea of making an offering to nature was simply based on “Tera tujhko arpan, kya laage mera.” This means, “Oh mother nature! I offer to you whatever I reap from you. Nothing is mine, it all belongs to you.”

The Hindu rituals and traditions always had a greater focus on ‘mother nature.’ It was just a few hundred years ago when the market took over religion and started dictating its terms on the festivities. Just observe the gifts that we now return to mother nature on our festivals, it’s – smoke, chemicals and synthetic materials that clog the rivers!

This situation demands a review of rituals and activities that we perform as celebrations. The priests, gurus and sadhus need to rethink our traditions. Did the residents of Ayodhya firecrackers, when Shri Ram returned? No. Then why are our sentiments on cracker-ban hurt?

In the oldest Hindu scriptures, the “Vedas”, there are detailed descriptions of Hindu gods. Symbolically, these gods are representative of nature, for example – Varun (sky), Vayu (air), Indra (rain), etc. We are primarily nature-worshippers, but are we doing it today? And, where are our godmen? I believe they are too busy, arranging for a party ticket for the 2019 elections. And we, the common people, are helping them nurture their political dreams by taking sides and shielding them from criticism.

Religion has a mass appeal which no other institution has. Then why not utilise it for a greater purpose, instead of creating foot soldiers for achieving political ambitions? Smoke from stubble-burning in paddy fields is the prime reason for smog. The leftover straw from the paddy crop is practically useless. Technical solutions to this problem are available, but they are too costly for a common farmer.

The kind of funds required for using technical solutions can be procured very easily by any religious organisation. The unifying powers of religion are often neglected. Even the journalists don’t prefer writing on religious issues.

Senior journalist A. J. Philip writes in his article “God Is Back”, “Most editors are wary of touching religion. They are so scared of offending religious sensibilities that they prefer to ignore subjects they think have religious connotations. In doing so, they prove unequal to the task of providing enlightened opinion on many subjects which have religious undertones.”

In a country like India, which has a pride in its religious plurality, its impossible to ignore religion. If pursued rightly, religion has a solution to many modern day problems.

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  1. raghu 27

    I really appreciate your perception towards Delhi smog but you cant ignore vehicles and industries for major cause .You only show one thing or we can say one day event ‘diwali’ to major problem like smog or climate change.

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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.

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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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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