An 18-year-old environmental activist fighting air pollution in Punjab

An 18-year-old environmental activist fighting air pollution in Punjab

Winner of Let Me Breathe’s Clean Air Punjab Competition, Akshyae Singh, talks about the discourse around pollution.

Akshyae Singh talks of the need to keep the planet safe, but he immediately zeroes in on the value of keeping the planet safe for the next generation that has not been as much of a priority for decades because “it all comes down to the bigger picture. It is important to recognise the next generation’s right to a cleaner world and can be done by analysing the consequences of ignoring that right.

The competition held across February and March 2021 was organized by Let Me Breathe, a Delhi-based organisation that provides space for people to document stories of living and surviving air pollution and climate change. This space also allows for positive stories on sustainability. The Clean Air Punjab Competition aimed to address a staggering number of deaths as a consequence of unbreathable air. According to the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019, air pollution led to 41,090 deaths in Punjab just that year alone.

Right from the start

The 18-year-old has been focussing on his green initiatives since the 9th standard, having done several projects including walkathons, plantation drives and online challenges at school, residence, and other places, events and programmes. He is also the head of SaafSaans (which means ‘clean breath’), a knowledge-sharing platform about pollution.

“My brother in Delhi has asthma and I often watched him struggling to breathe and having to be nebulised all the time. We did a protest march in November 2019 in the local market and urged people not to burst crackers for Diwali. We shouted slogans and people around the market joined in.”

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Meet the 18-year-old environmental activist fighting air pollution in Punjab
Picture Courtesy: The Hindu

By the time the Clean Air Punjab Competition rolled around he had already compiled several interviews with local activists and people affected by the unclean air. The video starts with Akshyae’s sister acting like she is struggling to breathe.

“We had to make it engaging. Yes, it is a ‘fictional start’ but the rest of the video has hard facts and figures. Most people prefer emotional appeal over scientific analysis. Feelings are more effective compared to facts and figures. Many people assume the pollution is caused by the fires from stubble farming. But it more so comes from industrial institutions such as factories and construction sites.”

The first version of the video was more than 15 minutes long. The three-minute requirement for the competition was a blessing in disguise. Akshyae found making the film concise actually enhanced the video.

Meet the 18-year-old environmental activist fighting air pollution in Punjab
Picture Courtesy: The Hindu

Homegrown ambitions

Akshyae has hopes of pursuing environmental engineering in the United States, pointing out the fight against climate change gets more traction there due to media attention, explaining, “Even if Indian colleges frequently conduct strikes, they are not given a lot of attention as a large number of people do not understand the significance of social movements and strikes in the fight against a bigger problem.”

Akshyae has his own green heroes, including Sir David Attenborough, Leonardo DiCaprio, Greta Thunberg, local storytellers Anuj Ramatri, Abhi and Niyu, and young activist, Licypriya Kangujam. He is an active volunteer at Fridays For Future Delhi.

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