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The Pollution Predicament: We Can’t Rely On The Govt To Save Us Anymore

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Winter has finally come! I welcome you all to the season of some serious yet amusing headlines. “दिल्ली की हवा में घुला ज़हर”, “दिल्ली बना गैस चेंबर”, “प्रदूषण की मार, कहां है सरकार?”, “Breathing is injurious to health”, “AtmosFEAR: Delhi victim of sick choke” and many more.

Come October and the people of Delhi-NCR start prepping for three things” 1) Getting their winter fashion ‘on point’, 2) Checking the Air Quality Index (AQI) every hour, and 3) Trying hard to breathe without choking or feeling nauseous. This has been the story for most of the people living in the capital of India, which has also had the opportunity to top the list of most polluted cities and capitals in the world. What an achievement, sirji!

Headlines or meme material?

Every year for the last one decade or so, the citizens of Delhi-NCR have raised their voices against this predicament, and our dearest politicians have tried innovative ways to pass the buck onto each other, our fighter journalists have brainstormed titles for primetime shows and asked people how they feel. But we are still here and the pollution doesn’t seem to be impressed by all this stage-show.

In the 2019 general elections, we voted a party to power which can actually single-handedly bring in laws to curb this recurrent issue of pollution. Similarly, we re-elected a government that boasts of a ‘good governance model’ in Delhi. They have been at the forefront when it comes to condemning the neighbouring states of the capital city. But I guess it’s just a matter of a couple of months after which the new year will be all about new pledges, new excuses, and new ways to dodge the questions.

But I want you to think about this: Who is actually responsible for such a disaster? The Center, the State, the neighbouring states, the citizens, or would it be safe to say it’s an act of God?

The headline of The Times of India on 16 November 2019 read “Meet on pollution put off as 25 out of 29 MPs fail to turn up”. This was enough to show the intent of our democratically elected and hard-working representatives on the issue pertaining to citizen well-being. There are big claims on Twitter talking about the mitigative measures being taken and even bigger PR promotions by all the stakeholders to ensure that they come out ‘clean’. But what I fail to understand is how these claims aren’t even defendable when the winters set in?

Delhi has been on red alert for its deteriorating air quality since 1995 when the suspended particulate matter in Delhi had hit a high of 409 µg/m3 (micrograms per cubic meter). To tackle this, the Supreme Court passed a historic judgement forcing all public transport vehicles to switch to a more environment-friendly and cleaner Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). Following this, there was a dip in the respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM) in the city’s air. This also happens to be one of the highlighted events of the then-Chief Minister of NCT Delhi- Sheila Dikshit’s career, spanning fifteen years as Delhi’s CM. But the ghost of pollution returned yet again in 2008, and from then on, the misery of the citizens has continued.

Representative image.

When the COVID-induced lockdown was in effect, the internet went crazy with viral memes where Delhi skies were the subject of humour. Some said they could see the Himalayas, some saw the Taj Mahal and some of them even saw the Statue of Liberty from their balconies and terraces. But at the heart of all this entertainment was people’s relief and grief. Relief that they could breathe cleaner air in such testing times while being home, and the grief that they would have to go through the same plight again once the lockdown would be lifted (and so did it happen). It was unbelievable to see how the Delhi skies became so clear. The Air Quality Index went crashing and stayed within ‘Good’ and ‘Satisfactory’, which is a rare luxury for the people living in Delhi.

All of this points towards one thing- our only limit has been our willingness to act on critical issues. Air pollution has caused severe economic, social, and environmental loss and we are still talking about formulating plans! The popular ‘lollipop’ of freebies to lure the voter has been replaced by a more colourful lollipop of pollution-reduction and world-class education. Therefore, it’s high time for the citizens to understand that it’s neither the state nor the administration that will solve the issue based on its merit.

This argument can be supported with the fact that all the major parties within the state and across the nation in their election manifesto have mentioned that they take air pollution seriously and that they would immediately address this issue. But, it’s hard to find the evidence of any concrete action (a lot of ‘concrete action’ though) implemented on the ground in our cities apart from the likes of the Odd-Even Scheme and building of a couple of smog towers.

The critics would say that it takes time for the state to formulate a strategy and execute it and therefore the work isn’t visible as of yet. But then the question arises: do we have enough time? Citizen-action has to be the way out of such issues— be it rising pollution or the issue of waste management. The first step has to be taken at the household level, I feel.

The conscience of citizen-activism has to take charge to drive our society towards safe and healthy living. This needs to be supported by infrastructural and technological innovation from the state which owes it to the taxpayer. Last but not the least, we are travellers on this planet with a limited time and it’s on us to preserve what we have today for the ones who are yet to arrive.

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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.

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.

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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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