Breathless: Photo-Journalistic Exhibit Highlights India’s Air Pollution Crisis

Women Hypertension

We always talk about millions of people dying due to environmental issues in India, in contrast a photo-journalistic exhibition playing out currently in New Delhi’s Bikaner House talks about people living with it from across the country. The project defies the argument that only Delhi or broadly northern part of India is affected by environmental issues and air pollution ailments as it brings in stories from Mumbai, Ennore near Chennai, and Korba in Chhatisgarh among other places.

Award-winning environment journalist and researcher, Aruna Chandrasekhar and photo-journalist Ishan Tankha collaborated with Help Delhi Breathe and Clean Air Collective to give shape to this initiative that attempts to make the issue personal by bringing out the human angle in it. It tells stories of various people across the country who are affected by air pollution as they breathe poison every moment of their lives. That no one remains unaffected by it and that’s why it must take precedence in our priorities.

The exhibition showcases a total of 60 unsettling images of pollution and how it affects people. In a conversation with SheThePeople.TV, Chandrasekhar shared her journey covering environmental concerns, and if media is willing to give it the much-needed space, also what lies at the core of this exhibition and more.


Breathless Exhibition in New Delhi

How media covers environment?

“When I started working as a journalist at 24, I roamed around trying to file stories, but I found there wasn’t much enthusiasm among publications to publish stories on environmental challenges. Then I decided to write for movements instead, to learn the legal side of it and understand how change can be brought about in these spaces. I worked with grassroots movements, state NGOs, Amnesty International as a coal researcher, etc. Over time newer digital spaces have come up for environmental stories to be taken seriously,” she said.

She drew a parallel between environment reporting then and now in the media. Back then new journalists covering environment would not be given enough space to get their stories published, but today that has changed, as new environment beat journalists who are a younger lot now have more digital spaces to publish their work, noted Chandrasekhar. However, limited budgets for ground reporting still hold good reporters back.

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“An issue where things haven’t changed at all is coal mining related stories. Publications don’t want to publish a story where there is a direct confrontation with the industry,” she said. But doing some of these stories from an individual’s perspective really made an impact she said adding.

When asked what prompted her interest in covering environment as a subject, Chandrasekhar recounted that she started travelling through central India starting in 2011 to cover environmental conflicts from the perspective of ‘adivasis’. “As those are the connections that people have stopped making. And after working and travelling with Adivasi communities and movements some of the concerns have grown to be more grounded. I have been working on mining and a lot of these issues are not seen as fields that women would cover from the ground.”

The important thing for people to understand from this is the interconnectedness of the issue across the country. Delhi is not in isolation. Punjab puts food on its table. There are power plant emissions coming from Chhattisgarh.

Not many women reporters on the ground

Now more women reporters are covering stories of environment issues, according to her. “I sometimes feel there aren’t enough reporters on the ground. It is sometimes depressing when people say that ‘you are the first person to come to this village and the first person to return.’ In spite of these, movements become families. Once you see suffering but more than just that you see courage in the face of tremendous adversities.” Chandrasekhar added.


A lung cancer survivor with his wife and son

No one is immune to air pollution

Through the project, she wants people to understand that we are not immune. “None of us, be it politicians, or people sealed in their homes and cars are immune from getting respiratory diseases due to the bad quality of air that we are breathing. The important thing for people to understand from this is the interconnectedness of the issue across the country. Where do we get our energy and water from? Those are the connections that people have stopped making. Delhi is not in isolation. Punjab puts food on its table. There are power plant emissions coming from Chhattisgarh.

“It is not just about getting out of our comfort zone. This is not a comfort zone, this is a war zone,” the journalist of Breathless appeals to people.

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