I was all packed and excited about flying out early morning to receive a award for my film when, in the darkness of my bedroom I heard a strange cough. Switching on the lights, I saw my year old daughter awake and clearly in discomfort. Her cough sounded strange too, like a little bark.
We called our pediatrician and he immediately said that if it sounded like a bark, we should go with her to the emergency.
At the hospital, my husband and I were shocked to see a full emergency room. Little children all below 10 on beds, our daughter joined them. Her breathing had to be monitored.
Needless to say I cancelled my flight and stayed by her side for the next 2 days (we brought her home the next morning).
The papers reported that most emergency rooms were full as at that time there was a cloud of spm hanging over Bangalore.
This happened again the following year.
Now 13 years later, we see that the problem has only become worse. Governments come and go, all with one thing in common: disdain for the environment, for our children's health and for our right to breathe clean air.
As a parent , it pained me a great deal when every year at certain times of the year my child developed a hacking cough and had to be put in a nebulizer with steroids. I couldn’t understand what he was allergic too till about 8-9 years ago, when we were going for holiday; the moment we got out of the Delhi-NCR region , my son stopped coughing & he was perfectly fine during our stay away from here. The coughing came back within an hour of returning to Delhi.
This is when I became aware of the reality of Air pollution & its harms.
As a parent , we seek to give healthy food & environment to our children . But I feel so helpless that I can’t control the toxins my child is breathing. For no fault of his, he is taking in poison with each breath .
Each year we face the same issues and no long term solution is being implemented by our decision makers. The health of our children is of utmost importance to all parents. I sincerely wish to see our air quality improve so that all children have a safe environment to grow & play .
Divya Setia from India
"It's not him, it's the entire city"
This was the moment the penny dropped for us. Back in 2015, both me & my 3 year old child were suffering from repeated bouts of cough and cold. For the life of me, I couldn't fathom why this was happening. When I asked my pediatrician why my child was falling sick so often his response saying it was the entire city, sent me into research mode. Finally something I had read about it primary school science as a future menace became very real to me! Air Pollution was killing my child and every person we love! The fact that as a well educated aware person who knew what was happening around the world, I had missed the fact that the air pollution had exacerbated in our city to this extent had caught me by surprise.
As a young mother, my heart would break at the sight of my 6 month old on nebuliser. I would fight back tears and wonder why this was happening to us. Over the years I see the story repeat infront of my eyes for so many young families. Most being unaware that the child is suffering due to allergic rhinitis/brinchitis/childhood asthama caused by the toxic air they breathe and just putting it down to weather or poor immunity. Our governments for years let us stay in the dark about how the air we breathe is a slow poison. But enough is enough!
Families like us who are aware, run away from the city every Diwali when pollution peaks and we know that noxious gases get added to an already terrible mix. Each year we miss out on the biggest religious festival for us, our child misses celebrating with his extended family. We spend a significant proportion of our income on air purifiers, filters, masks and air quality monitors year after year to try to save our child from suffering. There are millions of families that cannot afford even this protection for their children.
My dream for the children of my country and the world is that they get to breathe clean air...that every breath they take does not poison them..that they wake up every morning to a beautiful blue sky and not the smog enveloped darkness every winter..and for that dream as parents we must fight today, the indifference and apathy of our elected leaders at home and around the world. Air pollution is a great equaliser...no amount of money will protect you from it. So please stand up and be counted!
Gargi from India
I am a mother to a boy who suffered from high fever and chronic cough problems from the age of 3. We had to take him to the doctor at midnight. He is 7 years old now but still cannot participate in games and sports due to the weak respiratory system.
Like any other mother, my primary concern is my child’s health. We have consulted with many renowned doctors of Kolkata. All of them said that the problem is very common. I am also suffering from frequent asthma attacks. But no doctor has a proper suggestion for this. According to all the doctors, the problem is in the air.
In recent days, doctors have started talking about the impact of pollution on human health. The way air pollution is affecting our lungs is beyond imagination. So, being a concerned mother did some study on air pollution and found out that One in eight deaths in India was attributable to air pollution in 2017 and in 1.24 million, the deaths caused by air pollution are more than the death caused by other diseases like diarrhoea, tuberculosis, HIV, or malaria.
From various reports posted by the Government and other institutions, it is very clear that air pollution is a serious problem. But it is not possible for me to fight this alone. Thus, we have to work on it together and make the earth a better place to live for our kids.
Dr Sarika Verma from India
Clean air is a necessity and not a luxury. We can buy bottled water but none of us can afford to buy bottled clean air.
It's a pity that parents who buy their second third and fourth house to secure their children's future cannot reduce consumption to provide clean air for their children today.
As a mother I crave clean blue skies and hope I can live to see the day when India has clear blue skies and good quality air throughout the year.
The particulate matter smoke smog toxic chemicals effect our childrens lungs brains and all vital organs. How can most people shrug off the issue of air pollution. It effects each one of us.
Dr. Sarika Verma from India
I was a regular mom, earning, spending, pampering my kids. A few years back I noticed that the the air quality began to get intolerable every October to December.
In 2018 the Gurgaon administration had to cancel school on Children's Day and my kids were so upset as they had been very excited about the fun at school. It struck me that day, what lousy adults our generation has been. Our kids' festivities were cancelled because we could not give them clean air.
Clean air is not a luxury, it is a basic need. Since then I have been actively working towards a cleaner environment. I started a 4-way waste segregation in my condominium, started composting, planting trees. I created green spaces on my balconies. I absolutely stopped single use plastic, became aware of my carbon footprint, reduced shopping to just essentials. I started a crockery bank for my community and became a Warrior Mom.
I'll be damned if I remain a hapless bystander while my children are being forced to breathe air that is toxic and unhealthy. I'm trying to influence my fellow citizens to change their lifestyle and the government officials in-charge of environmental to take better policy decisions.
I will make a difference or die trying.
I'm an ENT Surgeon and Allergy Specialist in Gurgaon, India.
Nina Subramani from India
One of the most defining moments of my life was when my 6-year-old came home from school. “Amma, we learnt about global warming”. Wow, I thought, turning to her with a big smile thinking this would be the beginning of her life as an ecowarrior, earth-crusader, green-brigadier or the countless other things we call each other and our children for simply doing the right and sensible thing.
To my dismay, however, she looked frightened and with her upper lip wobbling said… “if global warming comes and the earth explodes, I want to die before you.” Her fear sliced through me, and eight years later as I write this, I can still feel the pain just as keenly. All my life, like thousands of others, I have done the ‘’right thing” — whether it’s not buying fast food, takeaways, plastic toys, a car, segregating my garbage, refusing my daughter many times things she craves because “it’s not good for the planet”— still, there seems to be not even a glimpse of a better future.
Could it be because we’re doing it all wrong? Holding ourselves accountable when industries and government get away with zero accountability? TPP plants all over India have created dystopian landscapes — of white ash on land where nothing can grow anymore. Winds scatter the ash far and beyond. Soiling the water. Clogging the air. Still, alternate energy is a distant dream. The appetite for wider roads can never be satiated — our roads are still congested despite having sacrificed thousands of homes and farmlands to make them. A robust public transport system is still a pipe dream. Plastic is ever prevalent — in the form of flimsy bags in spite of so much awareness. And however much all of us continue to do the right thing, we cannot win unless industries and the people we vote into power are held accountable.
Why do we demand so much virtue and selflessness from our children when we don’t have the energy to push the people who are meant to serve us? While forests are still giving way to mines, trees still chopped for architectural updates, water bodies still drained for development projects. Let’s never call our children entitled or spoiled again. We’ve stood by and allowed their legacy to burn and now expect them to sacrifice their childhoods and stand on the frontlines. We always say that we’ll stand in front of a bus for our kids, right? Well, that bus is hurling along — at top speed — coming for them. Come, hold my hand. Let’s stand in its path.
Rishita Mukherji from India
Where I live (Gurugram) the air quality is very bad. The intensive development of apartment buildings in suburban areas without proper public transportation pushes people into cars and reduces green space. Over the last decade we have lost thousands of trees in the name of development.
Recently as more groups join to demand for clean air, the municipal corporation pretends they care, but there is no real action. I became a mom five months ago and air quality has become a reason to stay indoors against our will for most of the winter. If we had a choice we would have liked to move into safer spaces with cleaner air but we cannot afford to move. We have new jobs and COVID times have been difficult too.
Sherebanu Frosh from India
My daughter was 5 when a friend told us to buy air purifiers for our home (in Gurgaon, India). We didn’t know much about the air pollution, except that it was there, and pretty high. This friend, a journalist, had just had her second baby and both children suffered from asthma.
With the air purifier came a monitor, not terribly accurate, which told us the pollution levels in our home. This was the first time pollution was quantified for us. That year, in November, as crop burning season along with firecracker season coincided and all of North India was enveloped in an extensive opaque cloud for a few weeks. We watched the numbers with horror and clustered around the one air purifier, not knowing anything else about how pollution works, only that the foul smelling air exceeded all limits.
Now I know more about air pollution. Everyone is forced to know. We check the AQI and PM2.5 numbers multiple times a day. I know that children growing up in this pollution have black deposits of particulate matter in their lungs - black lungs like smokers when they grow up. Lifelong, irreversible damage that causes dozens of diseases that are well documented. How can I allow this damage to be done to my children? Which mother would let her child get hurt to this extent? We don’t have a choice but to be environmentalists in India - fighting at individual level with reducing waste, cycling, buying less. Additionally, we are organising to fight at a system level as Warrior Moms.
So much of our mindspace goes in worry, stress and anger about air pollution, so much of our resources are lost to healthcare, lost productivity, disease. Fossil fuels are not worth it. Not by a long margin.
Gomathi from India
I dread the festival which I loved as a child, as now it invariably brings on serious episodes of wheezing and respiratory illness. I'm surprised that the authorities don’t take serious note of this unnecessary pollution. My old parents suffer even more. One time my father had to be hospitalised as there was so much smoke. He develops strong palpitation during Diwali every year, due to the sound and smoke. As a pet parent, I also fear for my dog who is traumatized by the sound.