Any government needs to provide its citizens five things – healthcare, education, safety, clean water, and clean AIR – Faye D’Souza

These words by the award-winning journalist echoed through a packed auditorium at the Bombay Art Society on Thursday, January 23. The statement poignantly captured the sentiment of hundreds and thousands of Indians at a time when air pollution has become a worrying concern.

Amidst a mix of journalists, activists and environmentalists, Jhatkaa.org, Waatavaran Foundation and the Clean Air Collective launched Breathless: An Artistic Call to India’s Air Pollution Crisis. This photo exhibition puts a human face to the phenomenon of air pollution by chronicling the struggles people are enduring due to toxic air. By including states such as Chhattisgarh and cities like Chennai, it also shifts the narrative beyond Delhi.

The compelling photos and text are by photojournalist Ishan Tankha and Aruna Chandrasekhar respectively. As Tankha noted at the launch, the project allowed him and Aruna Chandrasekhar to go beyond the numbers and figures around air pollution that made it to headlines, bringing forth actual human stories.

At the forefront of the exhibition is the story of Mahul, one of Mumbai’s most polluted areas that has been called a toxic hellhole and deemed unfit for human habitation by the NGT. The brave Anita Dhole opened up on the daily suffering of thousands of Mahul residents like herself and how they were all dying a slow death, living in toxic surroundings. She spoke about how they have been protesting on the footpath for 456 days now, and all they’re asking for is the right to live.

Also on the panel were Dr Sanjeev Mehta, chief pulmonologist at Lilavati hospital, photojournalist Ishan Tankha, and musician Ankur Tiwari who took to the stage later to perform Dhuan Dhuan, a song he composed around India’s air pollution crisis.

Dr Mehta made an important point about how polluted air does not discriminate and affects every single person, especially newborn babies and young children. He added that India had the highest number of (non-smoking) lung cancer cases in the world caused due to toxic air. The overarching demand was to take urgent measures to clean up Mumbai’s air, which is getting more and more polluted with every passing day.

Join the campaign to clean up Mumbai’s air here – bit.ly/MumbaiCleanAir