Monu could hardly gaze out of his pollution mask that reached until under his eyes, which are regularly itchy these days. The white piece of microfibre covered big parts of the eight-year-old’s face.
The young boy and his family came to India Gate Tuesday evening with hundreds of other protesters to call on the government to do more against air pollution that has hit Delhi hard this past weekend.
The mask was a gift from an NGO. “We couldn’t have afforded this”, said his older brother.
Behind the family, Aman, a student activist from the Fridays for Future movement, shouted into a microphone: “Why is pollution a problem every year; why do politicians not come forward on their own?”
The banners that old and young protesters surrounding him held up into the air in front of India Gate read “Give back blue skies”, “Our kids are breathing poison”, “Clean air is my birthright” and “I can’t breathe”.
“We called for this protest, because the conversation needs to move on from politicians just blaming one another. This is a public health emergency,” said Vimlendu Jha, founder of youth organisation Swechha, who called for the protest.
After a phone call with a hand full of people from other organisations the day before the protest, the idea spread on social media. Other citizen groups joined and also mobilised members. “The protest grew organically,” he explained.
One of the mobilised protesters was Samreen Khan, an office management student from Delhi University. “I don’t think politicians care enough. If they cared, something would change,” she said. It was her first time at a protest.
“The pollution is like slow poison,” added Neha Joshi, holding a pollution mask in her hand. The young woman from Ghaziabad said it’s the first time in weeks that she had left her house for an outside event. “Once winter was my favourite season; now I am too afraid to go out,” she said.
Neha found out about the protest on Instagram. “I always had the idea of doing something in mind. So this protest is a welcome chance,” she said.
The 20-year-old doesn’t think that the government isn’t doing anything. “But we need to push them to do more.”
She expected “maybe 50 people” at the protest. The organisers estimated that 1,000 came.
Sagar Bhraman from Dilshad Garden came to India Gate to see his friends when he ran into the protest. Eventually, he was holding one of the banners that the organisers had prepared for everyone. “I never thought about taking action. I always felt I wouldn’t find anyone to help me,” he said.