New Delhi: “I vividly remember it was November 16, 2016, the whole of Delhi-NCR was in an apocalyptic state due to air pollution. I could see no sunlight; thick layers of smog engulfed the city. It was also the first time the schools were immediately shut down in the city,” says Bhavreen Kandhir, a resident of Delhi. Bhavreen’s children, aged between 3 and 5, experienced continuous coughs every year with the onset of winter, and the same was complained by many of her friends, relatives and neighbours.
One mother’s story expanded to become the story of more than 1,400 hundred women across 75 villages in over 13 states of India, who came together to fight against air pollution by forming a collective called ‘Warrior Moms’. It is a movement of mothers fighting for clean air and a greener environment for their children. The primary works Warrior Moms do are – creating awareness on sources of air pollution and climate change, educating and empowering citizens to take action, and engaging with decision makers to enforce regulations.
The mission of Warrior Moms is to ensure the implementation of the World Health Organisation (WHO) air quality standards all over India. As per the WHO, the annual average of PM 2.5 should be 5 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3), whereas India’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards recommends 40 per cubic metre (µg/m3) to be the safe annual average of PM2.5
We have separate teams in over 13 states, and as our core work, we stage campaigns and protests, at various locations, mostly in the cities, asking the concerned authorities and the government to bring policies and concrete measures to tackle air pollution. Besides, we educate and create awareness among citizens on the sources of air pollution and its short and long term impacts on children’s health, through seminars. The seminars are conducted at the colonies and at ward-levels. We also create Standard Operating Procedure (SOPs) for citizens in the form of brochures, on air pollution violations, such as, waste burning, vehicular emissions, construction dust, tree felling, etc.
The Warrior Moms have formed teams in Delhi, Odisha, Jharkhand, Punjab, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, Kochi, Pune, and Hyderabad, among others.
Traversing From Urban To Rural India, Fighting Air Pollution
The team realised that the problem of air pollution was not only an urban issue, but a rural one as well.
In the rural setting, small teams of Warrior Moms reach out to women who have already taken leading roles in their communities to raise awareness through the Swachh Bharat Mission. The teams educate these representatives on air pollution, and its short and long-term effects on the health of children, the health impacts of open waste burning, how they can tackle indoor air pollution, by replacing solid waste fuels and with clean alternatives like biogas stoves, solar stoves, LPG (liquefied petroleum gas), smokeless chulhas, etc. They are also made aware of the benefits of the government schemes, such as Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) and how to avail them.
These women representatives of various villages are provided with brochures in different regional languages containing all the information, which comes in handy when they reach out to the other women in the villages. They go on to become changemakers, enabling the domino effect and imparting the knowledge to other people within the community.
Navdeep Kaur, a native of village Jatana Ucha in district Shri Fategarh Sahib, Punjab, is one of the Warrior Moms across India, who have been associated with the cause for about two years now.
The 41-year-old, who already works as a community leader for the Swachh Bharat Mission in her village, has educated nearly 150 women and their families in her village and the nearby areas about air pollution, its impact on their children’s health, ways to tackle pollution at households levels by switching to cleaner fuel alternatives over solid fuels for cooking, avoid open waste burning in the area that releases toxic chemicals which pollutes the air. She also visits the areas on a monthly basis to follow up if the changes are incorporated.
Talking about the reason behind taking the movement to rural India, Samita Kaur, a core team member, said,
We, who are living in cities, have access to several amenities to deal with air pollution at some level, from wearing masks to buying air purifiers. Moreover, we have a choice of staying indoors amid the rise in pollution levels, unlike people residing in the remotest parts, who are equally the victims of air pollution.
The major impact of the efforts of Warrior Moms was the shift from solid fuels to clean alternatives in more than 1,000 households in the rural areas. The Warrior Moms have also helped rural families avail the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana scheme, to receive cooking fuel like LPG at a subsidised rate. So far, there have been 500 beneficiaries of their efforts, in several states.
One of the success stories of the efforts is of Asha Kiran, a native of Odisha, whose daily cooking routine relied on the traditional ‘chulha’ fueled by wood and coal, filling the air with dense biomass smoke and taking a toll on her children’s health. In 2022, Asha attended a seminar organised by the Warrior Moms community leader in her village, where she learnt about pros of switching from solid fuels to cooking gas, and the PMUY scheme. Getting the LPG at a subsidised rate, helped her to easily switch from traditional to cleaner cooking fuel alternatives.
Recently, they have also done a micro research study on indoor air pollution with Asia-Pacific Regional Network for Early Childhood (ARNEC). The study explores the types of solid fuels used in rural areas, the differences in pollutant levels between different cooking fuels, the benefits of switching to cleaner cooking fuels and recommendations to strengthen the initiatives to address indoor air pollution.
Talking about the future plans, Bhavreen and Samita said that the team would drive focus toward designing brief, effective presentations for workshops, primarily for sensitisation purposes. Besides, the team will also be taking on research and action on air pollution outside schools and crematoriums.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which in its Season 10 is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Ayushmann Khurrana. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In a world post COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental well-being, self-care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.