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'Choking Millions': Pollution From Chulhas Impacting Women in Delhi's Slums

How can families, who struggle to feed themselves, afford to buy a Rs 1000 cylinder? Asks Rama, an ASHA worker.

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3 min read

Every morning as Rama, a 39-year-old ASHA worker from Delhi ventures out to work, she is disturbed by the sight of women in Delhi’s slums cooking in front of the chulhas (brick stoves) with smoke engulfing their homes and the vicinity.

Being able to afford clean cooking fuel remains a distant dream for several families in urban slums of India, putting women and children at a high risk of health impacts from the smoke inhalation, due to their proximity to the chulhas.

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In Delhi – which is one of the most polluted cities in the world with pollution levels far exceeding the permissible standards – 20% of the annual average of PM 2.5 levels comes from household air pollution due to the burning of solid fuels for cooking and heating.

Women who work around the chulhas, and the children who are mostly in the house around their mothers, are disproportionately affected by this and face the double burden of air pollution – from the outdoors and indoors. They are at a high risk of facing respiratory issues and breathing difficulties to more severe health impacts such as lung damage and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

‘Choking Millions’ is an attempt to chronicle the hardships that women undergo every day, to be able to cook food for themselves and their families through the voice of Rama who is a witness to these testimonies.

My child inhaled chulha smoke by accident and started coughing up blood from his lungs.
Pooja, Daily wage labourer
We go into the bushes searching for firewood day in and out. If that's all we are going to do, what and when do we even eat?
Asha, Daily wage labourer

‘Choking Millions’ chronicles the hardships that women in Delhi’s slums undergo while using chulhas to cook.

Turtle on a Hammock Films.

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This emotional film is a collaboration between Warrior Moms (a mothers collective across the country fighting for clean air for their children) and a production house, Turtle on a Hammock Films.

When I went to fill up the form for gas subsidy, I was told that only people with labour card or aadhar card are eligible for connections. I broke down and cried. No one helps the poor.
Rekha, Daily wage labourer
Some received 1 or 2 subsidised gas cylinders. How are they expected to pay Rs 1000 for the 3rd cylinder, when by the end of the month, most of them are not left with even 100 rupees to spare.
Rama, ASHA worker.

The film highlights the barriers in the way of women’s access to clean cooking fuel: unaffordability of LPG, cultural beliefs and patriarchal household dynamics, lack of awareness about the ill effects of burning firewood and poverty.

“It is sad to see the discomfort that these women face while using the chulha as they end up inhaling the smoke. Many women have told me that they would love to cook on an LPG gas but most of these women are too poor to be able to afford a cylinder. Besides, they also have no financial bandwidth to spend on the health expenditure that comes along with the respiratory and other serious health impacts of burning chulhas,” said Rama.

The film has some gut-wrenching narratives – from a woman whose child suffered from burns due to accidental contact with the chulha to pregnant women who get nauseous every time they blow into the chulha, thus highlighting the human side of household air pollution in India.

It also draws attention towards the need to strengthen our national and state level policy initiatives for providing clean cooking fuels to poor households, as most households still cannot afford LPG cylinders and continue using chulha.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Edited By :Padmashree Pande
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