Samreen is a lot more aware and observant than your average three-year-old. When she’s not telling people to stuff the wrappers of the snacks they eat into their purses and throw them in a dustbin later, she’s telling her playmates to switch off the lights and fans, save water, and be kind to animals.
It was a day just like any other, and Samreen was on her way to the doctor’s clinic to get a severe throat infection checked. “He told my mumma that it was because of pollution, and I have to wear a mask,” says Samreen Bijjan. She diligently put on the medical mask given to her to shield herself from Delhi’s ubiquitous and burgeoning smog situation.
Behind the mask though, Samreen was plunged into deep thought. She pondered over the conundrum – if the little time she spends exposed to Delhi’s vicious smog got her nose and throat so severely damaged, what about that brave man she passes on her way to school everyday, who is always standing right in the middle of the road, breathing in the toxins and fumes from the cars he directs and guides?
“If I got a throat infection, so would inspector uncle who stands there on the road in the open day and night,” she says. She instantly planned a little halt on her way back from school the next day.
Head constable Inspector Satpal Singh, waved at her merrily, and he expected her to flash her sunny smile and pass him by, like she did every day. But this time, much to his surprise, she went right up to him, removed the mask she was wearing and held out her hand signaling him to take it, telling him he should keep it because he needed it more than her. “I was worried about his health, and wanted to give him something to protect him from the dirt and pollution,” she explains.
The three-year-old girl became the epitome of kindness and humanity by being empathetic to the friendly stranger who worked for the city day and night, braving hail or storm, heat or pollution.“I was absolutely shocked as well as swelling with pride when I saw what my daughter did, and I decided to capture the moment because it was so special,” says her mother, Hetanshi Bijjan.
Knowing that present-day Delhi was locking horns with this issue avidly through several campaigns, Pranita decided to share this incident with organisations who were championing this cause. She sent the photo with a narration of the incident to several organisations, out of which Hawa Badlo, an independent people’s movement spearheaded by a Gurgaon-based startup Social Cloud Ventures and supported by GAIL (India) Limited,responded to them immediately telling her how inspired their team was, upon reading about Samreen.
“Through our research, we had known that respiratory problems were one of the greatest occupational hazards for the traffic police, but it was an inevitable part of their jobs. When we read about Samreen, we were certain that this simple incident has the potential to inspire the nation. Our team instantly thought of turning it into a video campaign, keeping it as true to life as possible,” says Aakar Seth, founding member of HawaBadlo. This tied in perfectly with their existing campaign, wherein they were using social media platforms to raise awareness and motivate people to commit towards air friendly habits at a micro level, which collectively yields a measurable effect on the Air Quality Index at a macro level.
HawaBadlo launched a video re-enacting the real-life incident of the three-year-old acting instinctively over something that never really had crossed anyone’s mind. The incident also inspired them to go one step further and initiate #GiftAMask, an endeavour to celebrate the unsung heroes with something tangible. Team HawaBadlo will gift masks to Traffic Police as a token of gratitude each time someone tweets with the hashtag #GiftAMask.
The video has garnered over 632,000 views and is continuing to gain more traction with every passing day. The movement itself has gained a lot of support from people and hundreds of twitter users have already tweeted with the hashtag, in turn leading to several hundred donations. The organisation also leverages Twitter to bring other prominent evils to the fore, like their #RaavanKoRoko movement, opposing the burning of the effigies of Ravana to commemorate Dussehra. “There are just a few preventions, but the cure, and our larger aim is changing the air and making it breathable,” says Aakar.
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