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“Youth Voices Need To Be Given Greater Importance In The Climate Discourse”


WhyOnEarth logo mobEditor’s Note: Are you bothered by the drastic changes in our climate, causing extreme weather events and calamities such as the Kerala Floods? #WhyOnEarth aims to take the truth to the people with stories, experiences, opinions and revelations about the climate change reality that you should know, and act on. Have a story to share? Click here and publish.

This post is part of theYKA Climate Action Fellowship, a 10-week integrated bootcamp to work on stories that highlight the impact of climate change on India’s most marginalized. Click here to find out more and apply.

As a child, Abhiir Bhalla used to refrain from attending workshops on environmental awareness, faking stomach aches instead. Then, he realized the impact air pollution was having on his own health, and since then the 19-year-old has been actively involved in pursuing the environmental cause – especially those related to air pollution, waste segregation and sustainability.

Over the past eight years, he has worked extensively as a youth environmentalist both individually as well as with organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund, Delhi Metro Railway Corporation and United Nations Environment Programme. As a core team member of Care for Air (India), he leads a team of 35-40 young environmentalists to bring about a positive environmental change. He also works with Youth Connect, an England-based NGO, and produces climate-based podcasts under the banner of Ramphal Dialogues.

In a conversation with Youth Ki Awaaz, Bhalla discusses issues around air pollution in the country, media discourse around climate change, and why young voices matter in the fight against climate change.

Abhiir Bhalla, a 19-year-old environmentalist.

Sucheta Chaurasia (SC): Presently, we are witnessing a double trouble of sorts – a raging pandemic and air pollution. How are the two related?

Abhiir Bhalla (AB): So there is this study that says two things. The first – that prolonged exposure to air pollution can lead to the virus’ severity impacting us in a much worse way. The second – air pollution being as bad as it is at present, will also facilitate the spread of the virus. This was in January and now, there has been even more research that proves these points. So there is an undeniable link between the severity if not the spread, and the impact of the virus and air pollution.

SC: How do you look at the media coverage of environmental issues in India?

AB: There are two aspects to this issue.

The first – there isn’t enough coverage. Take air pollution, for example. The mainstream media only talks about it from October to January which is absurd. Because a few days ago, Delhi’s air pollution was just as bad as Mumbai’s air pollution three, four months ago, and at that time, people were saying, “Hey! Bombay’s air quality is worse than Delhi!”. So the idea that you talk about it only when you see it is absurd to me.

(And the second )What’s even more absurd to me is that it still doesn’t have that urgency., What the media discourse requires is urgency because air pollution and climate change are killing us slowly and steadily.

SC: Do you think youth voices need to be given more importance?

AB: Youth voices definitely need to be given greater importance. The reason being that the people who are sitting in Parliament right now will not be here twenty years from now. We are already witnessing the impact of climate change now, but 30-40 from now, we’ll be seeing the really devastating ones unfold (if something isn’t done about it). And at that point, if people from my generation sitting in Parliament are told to deal with the crisis, that’s not fair, because it will be too late then.

We are already about to reach, if we haven’t already, the point of no return. That’s why I feel it’s imperative that youth voices have a say and the power to change policies with regard to those specifically which influence our future.

Abhiir Bhalla in conversation with the author.

SC: Is India in a position to set a target of net-zero emissions by 2050?

AB: India has still not made the net-zero commitment. That’s shocking. If they have not made that it tells you that we are not prepared for 2050. What I can say is that if we continue to emphasize renewable energy —then maybe we could reduce our carbon emissions a lot, but net-zero at this point, with everything else going on right now – I think the agenda presently is to do whatever it takes to revive our economy.

SC: What are some of the steps that can be taken on an individual level to save the environment?

AB: For those of us who live in urban areas – composting, switching to sustainable products, doing things in your houses, that in itself can help a lot.

Next, things like— buying electric cars if one can afford them, installing solar panels if you can afford them. People say, “Oh! we can’t afford rainwater harvesting! Balti to rakh hi sakte ho na bahar. Tub rakh sakte ho (You can keep a bucket or a tub outside). If nothing else, use that water to water your indoor plants, wash your dishes, wash your clothes. At least it can be used. So, you know, it is about finding these tricks, tips, hacks and solutions and a lot of them are out on the internet now.

SC: Lastly, any piece of advice to the young people looking forward to getting initiated in environment conservation?

AB: I think it’s all about passion and commitment. It is about doing your daily bit. If I don’t take a bucket bath, I do 10 other things; I segregate my waste, I compost my waste. It is about taking baby steps.

Every 2-3 months, set targets for yourself on how you can be sustainable. Start by setting up different bins to segregate your waste. Talk to your garbage collectors about the importance of segregating the waste.

I know a lot of people who start environmental or social initiates to pad up their CVs. Unfortunately, 60-70-% of them stop working when they get into the colleges, you know. Ideally, continue the project that you start, if not, at the bare minimum, hand it down to your juniors. Have a continuity, have a succession plan. Hand it to them! Make it efficient!

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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, 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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