Meet the environmentalist and dancer who is providing khadi masks to armed personnel

Thirty-three-year-old Arushi Nishank, through the Sparsh Ganga Foundation, has roped in women from rural areas to stitch khadi face shields for members of the armed forces, frontline health workers, as well as daily wage earners.

As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to surge across the world, people are becoming increasingly pro-active in adopting all kinds of measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Wearing face masks is one of them. 

Earlier on, most governments had dissuaded individuals from using masks to ensure there were enough for frontline healthcare workers. Now, with more and more companies designing face masks for the general populace, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), as well as the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare have both recommended using masks for protection. 

Arushi distributing masks to healthcare workers.

The demand for masks has therefore jumped manifold – so much so that it has almost assumed the form of a visual metaphor. While the fervent ones don colourful cloth masks, others simply wrap their faces with handkerchiefs. 

Thirty-three-year-old Arushi Nishank, a renowned environmentalist and dancer, has kicked off an initiative under the Sparsh Ganga Foundation to provide masks to people facing a deficit. By engaging with rural women, she is not only churning out reusable khadi masks, but also distributing them to army personnel, frontline health workers, as well as daily wage labourers.

The khadi masks produced through Arushi's initiative.

“While all of us are staying indoors and taking various precautions to fight coronavirus, the brave soldiers and health workers of our country are risking their lives for the citizens every single day. So, at the outset, we started by delivering khadi masks to these heroes,” Arushi Nishank tells SocialStory.

So far, Arushi has distributed a whopping 40,000 masks across Delhi, Mumbai, and Haridwar. 

“Khadi is a hand-woven natural material made from cotton and is perfect to put on during summers owing to its slightly rough texture. Besides, the amount of water that is used to make khadi is just about three litres, while cotton and other fabrics take up almost 55 litres. Therefore, its usage contributes to the conservation of water. Another major reason for me choosing khadi is the ideology associated with it,” she added, referring to Mahatma Gandhi’s efforts to make khadi a symbol of self-reliance during the Swadeshi movement.

Lending a helping hand 

Born in the city of Kotdwar, Uttarakhand, Arushi pursued her initial education at Banasthali Vidyapith, a residential college in Rajasthan. The institute’s focus on value-based learning played an integral role in shaping her thoughts and personality. 

33-year-old Arushi Nishank.

The eldest daughter of Kusum Kanta and Ramesh Pokhriyal – former Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, who then became the Union Minister of Human Resource Development in 2019 – Arushi was always keen to gather knowledge about welfare programmes and initiatives.

After completing a Master’s degree from International Business from Canada, she was offered a lucrative job in Toronto. However, she decided to turn it down and move back to India.

“I had an inclination to do something for the community around me. And, that was one of the reasons I returned to India,” she says.

One of the women holding up a khadi mask after stitching it.

As Arushi continued to follow her passion for kathak and filmmaking, she started helping her father manage and administer one of the educational entities he was running – Himalaya Ayurvedic Medical College in Dehradun – in her free time.

She then joined the Sparsh Ganga Foundation, a non-profit organisation established with the mission to clean the water bodies of the country.

“Eventually, I got myself involved in many of their impactful activities like cleaning drives, afforestation campaigns, etc,” notes Arushi. 

In March, taking stock of the unfolding coronavirus crisis, Arushi came up with the idea of roping in rural women to make khadi masks from home. She tied up with a few companies to help train the women, and provide resources needed to stitch the masks. 

Arushi and her team making some of the masks.

Today, over a lakh of them are involved in making the masks across the villages of Roorkie, Rishikesh, Delhi and Haridwar and are gainfully employed through this. Arushi is currently in talks with the Uttar Pradesh government to fulfill their requirements of masks.

“I hope to continue this initiative in future as well. I am working on other alternative models to establish a sustainable supply chain so that the women can remain independent and earn for themselves and their families,” Arushi says. 
Edited by Aparajita Saxena