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Are We Doing Enough To Control The Pollution Problem In India?

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When I was praised for my last article, with an appreciation mail, and was asked by the YKA team to write about pollution, as December 2nd happens to be the “National Pollution Control Day”; as a budding writer (in fact a category below it), I was pleasantly surprised and happy, and did not even take 20 seconds to say yes.

But after the excitement subsided, the reality struck me. I began to brainstorm what I should write about; something which hasn’t been written or voiced out previously. I could not find or think of a single thing which has not been previously said about pollution and its repercussions. 

But, sadly and ironically, things are just being said and written about by the masses. Period. The implementation doesn’t seem to be even one-millionth portion of all this.

Around 10 days back, when Delhi was badly hit by smog; as a part of typical daily routine, I got ready for office and went to the entrance gate of my society. That day, the society guard was wearing a big mask and seemed extremely troubled. When I asked him he said “Madam ji kya batau yahan bahar baithna padta hai and main saans bhi nai le paa raha hu”. (Ma’am, what can I say, I have to sit outside and I can’t even breathe here.) These were his exact words.

After Diwali 2019, the air quality in Delhi and NCR region dropped to Hazardous levels in several areas.

On reaching office; one of my colleagues, who comes by her scooty, narrated the entire story of how she was feeling suffocated when she had to stop at the red light with burning in her eyes. And even I was not spared. I have a completely choked throat since days, and neither antibiotics nor my mum’s home remedies, are working. Even the doctor confirmed that there is nothing wrong with my throat; it is just congestion due to an allergic reaction, and I am supposed to wear a mask when I go out.

I purposely wrote the above story to add to your boredom, because I wanted to make it black and white; that the pollution havoc is very much a true and harsh reality.

Evaluating Government Action On Pollution Control

Let me first put forth the government’s angle. Well, it is not a good one. The burning of crops has been going on for years, with fake promises of strict actions.

The blame game and political red flags are never-ending. I did not see any water sprinklers to control the situation or minimise the impact. I did not even see many contributions of the odd-even scheme, which again, hardly seemed to be working. The court’s reaction and fury towards government negligence have come way too late and seem unclear. 

The issuance of green-coloured, number plates for electric cars, with zero-emission and with few incentives to the drivers, is supposedly a good measure, but certainly not with an immediate result, which is the need of the hour.

Then again, FASTag for vehicles will certainly help in burning less fuel, and as evident by a poll I created; many people are in favour of it. But, I see a lack of machinery or backup, to deal with immediate problems, of time lag, in receiving the FASTag. Also, truck owners are not digitisation friendly. All in all, the measures that have been taken are too scanty and uncertain.

Citizen’s Role In Pollution Control

Coming to the citizen’s role; sadly, while our contributions might be a bit better than the government’s, they are certainly not great. Carpooling is still not acceptable by many. Bursting crackers on Diwali might have been less this year but it was very much present.

Most of the people have surrendered to the fact that things are not going to change and so there is no point in trying. This is evident from the fact that so-called “Oxy Bars”, which supply 15-20 minutes of fresh Oxygen, for a rejuvenating experience, are minting money. Since people have accepted the fact that the real thing (i.e. Oxygen) is not available; and this is the best we can have.

In addition, people are ready to pay a handsome amount of money to their gardeners so that they are able to breathe in some O2. Since working from home is not feasible all the time, many companies have received transfer requests from employees; even if it is on a low pay package.

Families who have elderly people or small children in their homes are very much contemplating shifting to other places, to save themselves and their families from the toxic air. So, the gist is this: measures being taken are less and acceptance or avoidance is more.

If the situation needs to be improved it has to be a cumulative effort by everyone. The government will have to bring in stricter norms and make their implementation mandatory.

The citizens will have to avoid burning of any sort. Rooftop gardens have to be encouraged. A “leave your vehicles at home” policy will have to be adopted. Factories which have toxic emissions must be allowed to be set up, only in areas which are far from communities. More energy-efficient devices and vehicles will have to be developed.

The models displayed by students, of various grades, across the country, in various exhibitions, on avoiding pollution and recycling need to be converted into reality.

If the above is not done, then all the marches, protests, posters, hoardings, awareness speeches and articles (including this one) will be a waste and will have a short-lived life span, just like ours.

Here are two simple hacks that I came to know of, to reduce the effect of poisonous gases we are inhaling: (a) try to gargle before eating your food; hot water is easily available everywhere, and this will at least remove some of the pollutants (b) take steam before sleeping, otherwise the normal cough will become asthmatic in the long run.

“Jaag Jao Nahi Toh Kabhi Jaag Hi Nai Paoge” (Wake up now or you might be asleep forever).

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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.

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 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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