This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Marifat Majid. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Toxic Air Is A Reflection Of India’s Poor Research Culture

Indira Gandhi International airport Delhi had to delay several of its flights and many got cancelled due to severe fog conditions”. This is a kind of headline we expect in winters. And now the new trend of headlines are like “Delhi chokes as the air quality falls to hazardous levels” (recently carried by Al Jazeera).

Over the years, Delhi has become a symbol of pollution. Being a cricket enthusiast, I remember how Delhi’s smog apparently came to rescue for the Sri Lankan players when they were getting clobbered by the Indian batsmen during a Test Match last winters. While most ex-India players were fuming at the decision of halting the test match, the reports however suggested that it was wise, as the air pollution level in Delhi on that day was 15 times the toxicity maximum set by the WHO. This winter it is no different as Delhi witnessed the season’s worst air quality on October 28. It continues to deteriorate further.

Like the past many winters, the northern plains of India remain most affected by the smog menace. The worst affected is India’s National Capital Region (NCR), which comprises of the Delhi and its adjoining parts. Every year, air quality takes a dip bad to worse, making it a health emergency. Pollution levels in the region are high round the year but as the temperatures dropping, it rises to the alarming levels. Of course there are a mixture of factors to blame, but every winter the fingers are pointed towards the neighbouring states of Haryana and Punjab. Now what do they do to add to the already menacing situation to make it worse? Agriculture is apparently the reason. The two states of Haryana and Punjab known for their agriculture, the two top wheat and rice producing states of India have to face the brunt of being responsible for NCR’s deteriorating air quality when they burn the stubble in their fields.

In India there are mainly two cropping seasons called Rabi (in which the sowing takes place between October and November, harvested between April and May) and Kharif (between May and July, harvest from September to October. Now rice (paddy) is a Kharif crop and wheat a Rabi crop. The problem lies in the transition period from Kharif to Rabi season. The newly harvested Kharif crop leaves stubble in the fields; the same fields are to be made ready for Rabi crop hence requires the stubble to be cleared off the field. Now this can be done in two ways either by using the traditional way of incorporating stubble into the soil or by burning the stubble. The method of incorporation is costly as well as time-consuming, so obviously the farmers choose burning as an alternative. The burning takes place at a very large scale, releasing toxic gases and particulate matter into the atmosphere, thus raising the pollution levels.

Aggravated levels of pollution is not limited to India. It has engulfed the whole world, whether it be the London smog of 1952, which killed thousands, or more recently in China. But apparently the reasons behind such situations in both the places seem similar—burning coal as a fuel for heavy industries like steel. However, after the reasons were revealed, both countries took steps, at least on paper, that led to some kind of relief.

It is not as if India’s industries do not use coal as fuel. But every winter. industries using coal as fuel are not blamed—instead, easy targets are made. Farmers are seen as the culprits. People start asking the wrong questions. TV debate experts want farmers to stop, and, interestingly, so do the politicians. What are the options for those farmers who toil day in and day out for small profits if they stop burning stubble? Nothing but loss, debt, and finally suicide. A vicious cycle. Instead of giving the farmers good options, you can’t straight away ban the practice.

But where will such options come from? That is where research is important. There should have been a voluntary response from research institutes all over India to devise some kind of solution for farmers; something to destroy stubble without affecting soil quality? This should have been the priority because people’s health is affected. But India and its research facilities have failed to do so. Interestingly the smog menace is in a place which houses one of India’s premier tech schools, IIT Delhi, and premier medical research facility AIIMS. But apparently the former is meant to mint engineers who work in banks and data filling jobs, and do everything but engineering, and the later mistreats poor and ailing patients, giving them appointments that sometimes stretch for months from the date of registration. Research in India’s premier institutes has taken a back seat.

Who is to be blame? The institutes can’t be blamed, because either they do not have the infrastructure, or the ones that do are helpless, because no one wants to pursue research. This happens when an educational institute or a research institute is judged and ranked by the amount of the average ‘package’ the students receive from MNCs after graduating. Should that be the only index of success? I do not remember in recent times, any breathtaking research taking place at these institutes. Those who could have, and should have, contributed are either doing clerical jobs just for the sake of better compensation or doing some research in foreign countries.

That over 80% of recent engineering graduates in India are not employable shouldn’t be shocking, because the 80% mentioned were never interested in engineering, only that engineers are well paid. This made room for lot of private engineering colleges setting up their business of manufacturing namesake engineers. Although there are a lot of excellent private engineering colleges as well, they are scarce. Hence the future of research seems bleak unless some very concrete steps are taken.

People need to understand and press the authorities for the same. We need a robust, research-oriented culture if the potential of engineering and other professions is to be realised fully. We need to ask questions, the right questions to the right people, and not be manipulated into thinking that nothing can be done. As for the research institutes, they need to come out of their rusty habits, develop something indigenous, encourage students towards research and provide solutions to real world problems.

You must be to comment.
  1. Pratyusha Banerjee

    Finally an article on this aspect and perfectly logical. Engineering for just the sake of mere employment and not for the true drive behind it is still the biggest challenge in the technological sector of India.

More from Marifat Majid

Similar Posts

By Prasun Goswami

By Rushalee Goswami

By Aayomi Afreen

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below