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How Delhi Women Living Near Landfills Use Art To Fight Against Air Pollution

Amidst a backdrop of myriad environmental concerns, 'Hawa Mein Baat' led by a diverse group of women from the grassroots, aims to amplify the voices of those most affected by air pollution.

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Oshi Saxena
New Update
TOI

Image Credit - TOI

As the sweltering heat engulfs the capital city of New Delhi, a stark reminder of its environmental woes looms large on the horizon. With soaring temperatures and a heat alert issued for the week, the urgency of addressing Delhi's pollution crisis has never been more palpable. However, amid a backdrop of myriad environmental concerns, 'Hawa Mein Baat' embodies a simple yet powerful premise: the belief that art has the power to spark change. Led by a diverse group of women from the grassroots, this initiative aims to amplify the voices of those most affected by air pollution. Through public art exhibitions and storytelling, over 40 women share their lived experiences and perspectives, shedding light on the often-overlooked human cost of pollution.

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The Genesis of "Hawa Mein Baat"

In a bid to raise awareness and foster dialogue on the issue of air pollution, a collaborative effort unfolds in the form of "Hawa Mein Baat" - a two-day textile art exhibition. Spearheaded by Help Delhi Breathe, in collaboration with renowned artist Niroj Satpathy and textile virtuoso Moumita Basak, this initiative seeks to bridge the gap between art and activism, offering a platform for marginalised voices to be heard.

Guided by artists from the Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art (FICA), women from marginalised communities transform trash into treasure. Bottle caps, discarded wires, wedding cards—each artefact tells a story, a testimony to strength against adversity.

Against the long history of Delhi's polluted skies, the exhibition serves as a canvas for twenty women from informal sector households to share their stories through textile art. Each artwork, meticulously crafted using old embroidered cloth, offers a glimpse into these women's lived experiences and aspirations. From vibrant tapestries depicting verdant parks to heart-touching portraits symbolising the yearning for clean air, the artworks resonate with a raw authenticity that go beyond mere aesthetics.

Empowering Women for Change

Central to the success of 'Hawa Mein Baat' is the active participation of women from marginalized communities. Through their artistry and activism, they challenge the status quo, demanding accountability and action. From Bhalswa to Nand Nagri, these women are the vanguards of change, spreading awareness and inspiring action in their communities.

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Sharda Ben, a 45-year-old homemaker residing in Bhalswa JJ Colony, talks about the spirit of activism. Armed with a handheld AQI monitor and fueled by a sense of duty, she dedicates her mornings and evenings to monitoring the air quality in her neighbourhood. Trained by the Mahila Housing Trust (MHT) and Help Delhi Breathe, Sharda endeavours to educate her community on the importance of eliminating individual sources of pollution.

In an interview with Times Of India, she reflects on the challenges she faces: "But people here lose interest easily. They are poor, with a hand-to-mouth existence. Only when you give them free things will they listen." Despite facing scepticism and apathy, Sharda remains undeterred in her mission to effect change.

She adds, "Everybody here is laughing. They think we have been collecting random trash from bylanes and dustbins to stitch into a sheet. But when they see the art exhibition, I’m hoping they will realize the power of collective effort to combat pollution."

Another participant, reflecting on the initiative, shared in an interview with TOI, "A key aspect has been women’s active participation to bring to the public eye the impact of air pollution on their quality of life and the need for better access to schemes and provisions. Waste objects and silai, kadhai skills have together empowered these women to voice their plight."

Central to the success of this grassroots movement is the active participation of women like Hemlata Mahur, a domestic worker from Nand Nagri. As an 'AQI ambassador,' she undergoes training to raise awareness in her community, using innovative communication tools to drive home the message of environmental stewardship. Through their collective efforts, these women amplify their voices, demanding better access to resources and provisions for those most vulnerable to the impacts of air pollution.

Help Delhi Breathe Hawa Mein Baat Air Pollution Delhiites
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