The capital of India has been going through several shifts years on end with varying governments and different issues, which have made the city a bit stagnant from time to time.
While Nirbahya was being debated and discussed, many people gathered in numbers to protest the outwardness of shame and the lack of civil and government responsibility, altogether. Nirbhaya affected many on a fundamental level, especially the women, who were concerned about their safety in the city. But it didn't really reach a level of concern where every citizen, from a working official to even an autowallah spoke out it with absolute bias. But that's the entire dilemma of a pressing issue. It affects a few while many become complacent towards it, assuming the government will do whatever it can to resolve it.
But this time, things were different in Delhi because they impacted every individual residing in the city. Delhi's polluted air has become a global conversation, because it's the first time in the history of an economically developing state, to go through something so fundamental and basic.
The alarming level of pollution hitting the city is ineffable. The rising Air Quality Index (AQI) has become a cause for concern and Delhi's almost unliveable so to speak. The demand for clean air is almost poetic now and because it's something that's available on an autopilot, complacency to act on dispensing more toxic air from the surroundings has risen tremendously.
PM 2.5, fine particulate matter that can permeate through even masks and enter the bloodstream and cause major health issues, is part of this toxic air the citizens are breathing in the national capital and even after enforcing laws to reduce pollution in the city, the city still breathes in poison.
© Indian Express
Most of the unhealthy air comes from Punjab, where the farmers burn stubble during harvest season since they have no other way to rid the leftover crop. Stubble burning produces hazardous air, which is then carried away by the wind, towards the capital and other neighbouring cities. Although stubble burning became a big part of the harvest cycle since the past few years, the stagnation of polluted and toxic air was overlooked by all ruling governments in the past, till it actually became a visible hell for the residents of the city.
Apart from the stubble burning, the other factors contributing towards the rising AQI were, obviously, firecrackers since harvest usually comes around Diwali, dust from the roads, industrial pollution and pollution caused by the vehicles on the road. All these contributing factors are risking a population of almost 2 crores, while the inadequate action taken by both State and the Central Government is almost deafening.
© Let Me Breath
Keeping all these nuances in place, Delhi saw something very different for the first time. Almost 1,500 people gathered around Amar Jawan Jyoti, India Gate on the 5th of November 2019 to address the lack of political will on sustainably tackling the monstrous issue at hand. What was different about this protest? Well, the demand for seeking very basic and fundamental-clean and breathable air.
The fact that people threw caution to the wind in openly defying the police and came out to protest tells us how bad the situation really is. From influencers in every realm to even autowallahs, everyone had an opinion to express and, of course, the most legit question of the moment was- what are the immediate steps to tackle the situation at hand?
The protest was organised by Vimlendu Jha, a renowned environmentalist, Shuchir Suri, founder of Food Talk India and Tamseel Hussain from the 'Let Me Breath' Foundation which uses mobile storytelling and public engagement to help people fight climate change and pollution issues in the country.
"What started with an Instagram post in just 36 hours brought thousands of people on the streets. People spoke about protecting farmers and solving the stubble burning issue, protecting forests, reducing pollution through better transport amongst many things. But the most critical part of their demands was asking the CM Kejriwal, PM Modi, CM Khattar, CM Yogi and CM Captain Singh to work together and solve this crisis. They don't want to be a part of the blame game - but want to be a part of a solution. They are sick of this bullshit" - Tamseel told MensXP in an interview.
© Let Me Breath
While people stood with placards talking about the harmful effects of pollution in the city, many also targeted the government's inaction in the matter. People were more concerned about the political will of the leaders and wanted to know how they would eventually tackle this grave situation. While the initiators believed the present party leaders need to centralise this issue and talk about the solution while sitting together for a meeting, which would provide an immediate remedy, many people also sought to find the answers right then and there.
"If you believe in something wholeheartedly, it does manifest before your eyes. I had been distraught with Delhi's hazardous pollution situation and thought as a citizen it is my duty to speak up.
What started as an innocent Instagram post, transformed into a mass gathering of 1500+ people with a clear agenda of demanding immediate action from our politicians and policy makers. Ranging from students to senior citizens, our common slogan at the protest was 'Right to Breathe'.
Moving forward I request all our media channels to play their role in bringing about a change. Clean India starts with Clean Air," said Shuchir Suri, in an interview with MensXP.November 5, 2019
While we wait for a tangible solution, there are things we can definitely do to bring down the carbon footprint and relate to the air we're breathing, For instance, plant more trees, decrease industrialisation around cities, promote forest welfare and stop deforestation, stop inhibiting animal land, carpooling to work and reduce the amount of infrastructure construction in the cities. Even though these are more long-term, if practised now, our future generations wouldn't have to live to see an almost apocalyptic space and time!
"I was away on Diwali, so it was a drastic and sudden air quality difference for me. I landed on Nov 1st after a long vacation on a remote island in South-East Asia (with pristine air) and was shocked at how I was gasping for breath when I got out in the city. Readings on my purifier were off the charts (20 AQI after a night locked in my bedroom- which shoots up to 650+ if my room door is left open for a few minutes) It was/is unbelievable and I took to social media to share my thoughts about how it is not okay for us to normalize this. The AQI is beyond severe and this is not a quality of life any of us should settle for.
Protests are necessary in a democracy to get your voice heard and find solidarity. While some of us have been screaming ourselves hoarse over this, there are so many others who aren't informed enough to even know the extent of how bad the air is. (There are kids who still play out in the park!) It was great to see people +media braving the air and coming out last evening to protest. I just read that the PM has called for an enquiry, which is a start." said Shyma Shetty, co-founder of HUEMN, who was also present at the protest that took place.
A lot of school-kids, who relate to the rising level of pollution very personally, were also protesting and they seemed absolutely disappointed in knowing there has been no solution to this problem yet.
“It is very difficult to step outdoors without a mask. Breathing in this air is equivalent to killing yourself,” said Manisha, a government school child.
Right at this moment, post the Delhi protest, the city is a lot more aware of the direct consequences of the harmful particles we all are breathing. The mobilisation of thousands, through this protest, created a significant ripple effect and we're more hopeful for an apt resolution in the coming time.
We just hope the cure is bigger than the cause in the near future and we wish the future is as malleable and breathable as we imagine it to be. Demanding clean air to breath has become a fundamental right and that's shameful, to say the least!