As pollution plagues Delhi, calls grow to shut schools and axe sport events

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A man paddles a home-made boat across Yamuna river on a smoggy afternoon in the old quarters of Delhi, India, October 30, 2019. (Reuters)
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Commuters drive along a road under heavy smog conditions in New Delhi on October 30, 2019. (AFP)
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Humayun's Tomb is seen under heavy smog conditions in New Delhi on October 30, 2019. (AFP)
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Birds fly next to electricity pylons on a smoggy afternoon in the old quarters of Delhi, India, October 30, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 30 October 2019

As pollution plagues Delhi, calls grow to shut schools and axe sport events

  • Farm fires raging in neighboring states have sent clouds of smoke floating over the city
  • The CPCB air quality index has exceeded 400, classified as “severe” on the scale

NEW DELHI: Some doctors and residents urged New Delhi authorities to shut schools and cancel outdoor sporting events in the Indian capital as air pollution remained at the most severe level for the second day running on Wednesday.
Farm fires raging in neighboring states have sent clouds of smoke floating over the city, trapped in a toxic smog, posing a health risk to its 20 million residents, according to the Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB) air warning guidance.
The CPCB air quality index has exceeded 400, classified as “severe” on the scale, which means it can seriously affect those with existing respiratory illnesses, and even those who are healthy. Pollution readings in some places had peaked at 500, the most severe level on the government index.
“It is a public health emergency,” said Desh Deepak, a chest physician at the city’s Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital.
“Today, lungs are far blacker compared to 20 years ago.”
Some citizens’ groups and doctors took to Twitter to call for schools to be temporarily closed until the air quality improved.
Former India cricket captain Bishan Singh Bedi, meanwhile, led a chorus of warnings over Delhi hosting a limited-overs Twenty20 cricket match between India and Bangladesh on Sunday, citing “hazardous air quality.”
But match organizers at the Delhi & District Cricket Association announced the sale of tickets on Wednesday in a sign they were pressing ahead.
Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said: “I hope that pollution will not come in the way of cricket.”
Some residents also called for the cancelation of a 6 km run planned for Thursday to mark the anniversary of the birth of former home minister Sardar Patel, revered by ruling Hindu nationalists.
“You will be putting thousands of citizens in harm’s way by making them run in this pollution,” posted Brikesh, a Twitter user.
The CPCB index measures the concentration of tiny poisonous particulate matter that can be carried deep into the lungs, causing deadly diseases including cancer and cardiac problems.
“We are in a severe situation because there are no winds,” Prashant Gargava, a top official at the CPCB told Reuters.
The city government has ordered the shutdown of construction activities and coal-based power plants. From next week, Delhi will restrict the use of private vehicles on the capital’s roads under an “odd-even” scheme based on vehicle number plates.


A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

Updated 22 January 2020

A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

  • Will give migrants a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes torn apart by partition of 1947

NEW DELHI: Sparsh Ahuja and Ameena Malak grew up listening to their grandparents narrate stories of the partition from 1947.
Ahuja’s grandfather, Ishar Das Arora, was 7 years old when the Indian subcontinent was divided into two by the British, creating India and Pakistan. 
More than 14 million people were displaced at the time, and about one million perished in the fighting that followed.
Arora moved from a Pakistani village, named Bela, to Delhi after living in several refugee camps and escaping the violence.
Meanwhile, Malak’s grandfather, Ahmed Rafiq, moved from the Indian city of Hoshiarpur to Pakistan’s Lahore.
Now in their 70s, both the grandparents yearn to go back home and see the places where they were born and spent their childhoods. 
However, the constant uncertainty in the relationship between India and Pakistan and their old age has made the task of visiting their respective birthplaces extremely difficult.
To fulfill the wishes of their grandparents, and several others who yearn to visit their ancestral homelands, Ahuja and Malak decided to launch Project Dastaan (story).
“What started as an idea for a student project last year at Oxford University became a larger peace-building venture,” Ahuja, the director of the project, said.
Project Dastaan is a university-backed virtual reality (VR) peace-building initiative reconnecting displaced survivors of partition with their childhood through bespoke 360-degree digital experiences.
Backed by the South Asia Programme at Oxford, it uses VR headsets to give these migrants, who are often over 80 years old, a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes. It shows them the people and places they most want to see again by finding the exact locations and memories that the survivors seek to revisit, and recreates them.
“It is a creative effort to start a new kind of conversation based on the direct experience of a now-foreign country in the present, rather than relying upon records and memories from the past,” Ahuja told Arab News.
He added that Pakistan-based Khalid Bashir Rai “teared up after his VR experience, and told us we had transported him back” to his childhood.
“At its heart, the project is a poignant commentary on its own absurdity. By taking these refugees back we are trying to highlight the cultural impact of decades of divisive foreign policy and sectarian conflict on the subcontinent. This is a task for policymakers, not university students. In an ideal world, a project like this shouldn’t exist,” Ahuja said.
Other members of Project Dastaan — Saadia Gardezi and Sam Dalrymple — have a connection with partition, too. Gardezi grew up with partition stories; her grandmother volunteered at refugee camps in Lahore, and her grandfather witnessed terrible violence as a young man.
Dalrymple’s grandfather had been a British officer in India during the twilight years of the British Empire. So scarred was he by the partition that he never visited Dalrymple’s family in Delhi, even after 30 years of them living there.
“I think Dastaan is ultimately about stripping away the layers of politics and trying to solve a very simple problem: That children forced to leave their homes, have never been able to go back again,” Dalrymple told Arab News.
Ahuja added: “The partition projects are a peace offering in the heart of hostility. It is an attempt at creating a wider cultural dialogue between citizens and policymakers of the three countries.”
The project aims to reconnect 75 survivors of the partition of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh with their childhood memories, when the subcontinent observes 75 years of partition in 2022.
Project Dastaan is also producing a documentary called “Child of Empire” that will put viewers in the shoes of a 1947 partition migrant, and will be shown at film festivals and museums.