India’s autowallahs: People at the highest risk of air pollution share their viewpoint
Autowallahs make short distances shorter, and sometimes sweeter with their banter.
Autorickshaws are to Indian cities what nimboo paani is to Indian summers - quick, efficient and inexpensive. In other words, a glass of nimboo paani on a sweltering hot afternoon brings the same sense of relief as finding an auto while running late.
Autowallahs make short distances shorter, and sometimes sweeter with their banter. They are truly the frontmen of urban Indian transport. Inspired by these soldiers on the road, Sony Liv in association with GAIL created a quirky web series called Hawa Badle Hassu . The hero of the show is a witty autowallah with the singular goal to save the environment. His name is Hassu, and he educates his passengers about pollution control, climate change, global warming and protecting Mother Nature.
As Indian cities reel under air pollution, autowallahs are most vulnerable to its hazards. We spoke to a few autowallahs in Mumbai and found that they spend nearly 12-14 hours every day carrying passengers, and some even sleep in their three-wheelers. They are often inflicted with nagging health issues such as constant back pains, blinding migraines and undiagnosed respiratory problems amongst others.
So, how do autowallahs curb air pollution - a primary culprit of their health-related concerns. We bring a few insights beginning with Hassu:
1. “My auto rickshaw is a greenhouse on wheels. I like to strike a balance between pollution and protection because everything is in harmony in nature. You see the plants in my auto-rickshaw? They balance air pollution by releasing oxygen. Sometimes, I gift a plant sapling to my bewildered passengers. It’s better to give free gifts than free advice. I talk a lot about the environment with my passengers. In case they have headphones on, then the pro-environment messages in my auto will catch their attention; one of them reads - I don’t talk trash. I only talk compost. For my non-stop banter to be environmentally conscious, I’ve earned the moniker Hawa Badle Hassu."
- Hassu, age unknown
2. “Air pollution can have multiple health problems. A fellow auto-driver was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He took a long time to recover because his body was weakened by being on the road constantly. We try to do our bit to control air pollution. My auto runs on CNG which is a cost-effective fuel and is cleaner than petrol or diesel. I don’t have health insurance, but my auto-rickshaw is insured. My day at 9 am and work till midnight a few times a week. We autowallahs don’t have weekly offs, national or festival holidays, but we do go away from the city to visit our families.”
- Gajanand Singh, 32 years
3. The roads in Mumbai are terrible and the design of the auto is such that the driver cannot sit comfortably. Poor posture causes unbearable back pain, but I consider myself healthy because I am a happy man. I don’t drink, smoke or chew tobacco. Do you see this ‘No Smoking’ sign in my auto? Hopefully, it discourages other people to smoke and also contributes to controlling air pollution.
- Razaq Khan, 40 years
4. I have been riding an auto for 20 years. Our community is very supportive, and we are quite disciplined. If I don’t reach the shared auto-stand on time in the morning, you will miss your train to work. You are asking me how I keep the environment clean. Well, I limit creating waste. I don’t buy water in plastic bottles and carry my own. I don’t use tissue paper and carry a handkerchief. I don’t have car shampoos in fancy bottles, because plain water and a piece of cloth does the job just fine. It’s quite simple to be environmentally conscious.
- Bismillah Qureshi, 37 years
It’s a good idea to strike a conversation with an autowallah. If you are lucky, you will take a ride with Hassu!
Or, you will meet him online on Sony Liv’s Hawa Badle Hassu. The central character’s in-depth knowledge about environment protection urges viewers to take action before the blue planet perishes. The show is powered by GAIL with the mission to provide sustainable and clean sources of energy in India as they forge ahead for a global presence.
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