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Verve People
January 28, 2020

Rebels With A Cause

Photographed by Nishant Radhakrishnan

It is hard not to factor the environment into any long-term plans for the way we live. Three urbanites from different age groups and walks of life — Reem Khokhar, Karishma Sehgal and Aditya Dubey — have opted to stop being passive and made irrevocable choices that align with the well-being of the planet. By respectively sticking with a decision taken in her teens to not have children, choosing to design a sustainable personal wardrobe and juggling an education with climate change activism, these determined citizens of the Earth share how their tomorrows have been affected by the deterioration of the natural world today.

Reem Khokhar/Writer and Entrepreneur

In a nutshell, Khokhar believes that we should be making informed choices about reproducing, as these decisions pertain to much more than our individual emotional and biological desires or needs and have a large-scale effect, particularly in already overpopulated cities (like Delhi where she is based). “I have never claimed that environmental reasons were my original or even primary reasons for not having kids….” she clarifies. But when the 39-year-old wrote an opinion piece on antinatalism a little more than a year ago, she was struck by the positive feedback she received. “It showed that several people — and many women — echoed my thoughts. There was harsh criticism as well, with some feeling that those who think like me are lazy and just trying to make our choices seem better by quoting environmental reasons. Do I hate kids? Of course not,” she says, drawing out the extremity of the opinions on the topic. Citing the substantial financial and emotional investment that comes with having children, she elucidates that for her, emotional fulfilment is not linked to being a parent, and she has never felt that the compromises required are worth it. Having a child has been regarded as ‘life-affirming’ or ‘life-changing’, but even if there is life left on the planet, the question is, will it be a life worth living?

“The idea of antinatalism today is definitely linked to the argument of consent. Until we can improve living conditions and practise a more respectful and sustainable way of life, we should not be burdening a child who never gave their consent to be a part of this mess. No parent wants their children to suffer and take Delhi, for example: should we be bringing more kids into these living conditions?”

“Those who want to have children should consider adoption. Those who yearn for their own blood and want a large family could consider adopting one child along with having a biological child. In case you choose to have a biological child, thoughtfully consider the environment you are bringing them into as well as the increased load you will be adding to this planet. I don’t think that humans are bad, it’s just that to live and make a living, there will always be a fair amount of wastage and burden on the environment as a natural consequence. For instance, most of us need to be based in the cities because that is where the jobs are. More housing, transportation, entertainment options and so on need to come up to cater to this growing population. But along with that comes pollution, overcrowding, shortage of seats in good schools, stress and other lifestyle diseases. We need to find solutions to help us live responsibly before we continue to further strain our already overburdened surroundings.”

“The idea of not having a biological child probably took seed in my mid-teens. My mother had mentioned adoption at one point, and it got me thinking. I had always questioned the concept of only being able to love a child who is biologically yours. I’m happy with my decision; nothing has really changed since I started thinking about it over two decades ago. If I were to adopt a child, I guess one of the lessons I would like to pass on is to have compassion and kindness for all living beings and this planet. These are underrated qualities. Be curious and question the norm, don’t just do what is expected of you. And I would convey that all kinds of families are okay — kids or no kids, pets or no pets, an old aunt or your house help making up your family. Families come in all shapes and sizes. There are many examples of alternate relationships and family structures, and there’s no one size that fits all! I did a piece on polyamory earlier this year, and part of the learning was hearing about polyamorous communities where a person having multiple parallel relationships chooses to live and take care of kids together with their different partners. A bit like an extended or joint family. There are so many ways to structure a family, it’s all about what works for you. Legally, I know it’s complicated, and most will likely find it difficult to live outside the culturally acceptable familial structure.”

“Over time, I have realised that bringing kids into this world, or at least my immediate surroundings, is selfish. My family and friends don’t judge me for it, and I have many friends who do not have children — it’s not like my husband and I are the odd ones out. But I do feel a lot of people have kids because it is the expected next step in our life journey, so having the uncomfortable conversation about this is essential. I won’t lie, I do wonder and get nervous about how things will be when I am older, but I don’t think it’s fair to expect your kids to be your nannies when you get to that stage. Some won’t mind, but some definitely will!”

“Caring about the future and the environment is not optional, and I actually feel that the younger generations are much more aware and conscious than I was when I was younger. Learning to co-exist peacefully and respectfully is the need of the day. To a certain degree, I do control my consumption patterns in daily life. As my husband and I don’t have kids, we have the luxury of choosing to travel off season and opting for less-frequented destinations to help with the effects of overtourism. We make sure to do little things, like bringing our own bags and containers when we shop. I work from home mostly, but I structure my personal and professional commitments in a way that I don’t have to take the car out every single day. My husband is forgetting how to drive now because he takes cabs or the metro when he needs to go out. When I was working at an office until two years ago, I commuted by metro. I have brought down my personal shopping drastically and am quite okay with being seen in the same outfits. My husband and I adopted two rescue dogs a few years ago, and I am a strong advocate of animal adoption rather than buying or encouraging breeders. Our parents and grandparents were champions of upcycling and recycling, and most of us are realising that now. They are the original heroes!”

“I’ve seen both my niece and nephew, as well as several kids of friends and acquaintances, develop respiratory issues and lifestyle diseases at a very young age. I am also seeing more of my friends with kids looking to move out of Delhi or out of the country to give their children a better quality of life. I am really no one to give anyone advice, this is simply my choice and a discussion that shouldn’t scare people or make them feel like they are being attacked. It is simply a reality of the times we are living in.”

– Ranjabati Das


Karishma Sehgal/Fashion Designer and Blogger

The Hyderabad-based 29-year-old has altered the approach to her personal style and is doing her bit to mitigate one of the biggest issues in the global fashion industry today: the loop of consumption that leads to textile waste, which eventually ends up in landfills. This propagator of a zero-waste wardrobe urges readers to find a renewed purpose for textiles, fabric scraps and clothing items left over from their pasts while savouring the nostalgia they hold, the same way that she has been doing. Raised in a family with an Army background, a baksa or trunk has held a significant place in Sehgal’s life; from packing her childhood mementoes when changing cities to storing clothing from her family’s closets, it has been a steadfast companion on her life journey. And, through her sustainable fashion label, The Baksa Project, and blog of the same name (thebaksaproject.in), she presents an easy example to follow and get in sync with the needs of the environment.

“Before starting this blog, I spent a couple of months studying sustainable fashion, both as a consumer and creator. I referred to multiple blogs such as Unwrinkling, Tolly Dolly Posh and Adimay, listened to highly informative podcasts like Wardrobe Crisis by Clare Press and read several books on upcycling, climate change and craftivism. Armed with this knowledge, I decided to create a space that educates as well as teaches people hands-on techniques to practise slow fashion. Once I had decided to make conscious fashion choices, I realised there was a dearth of information and inspiration coming out of India, despite the fact that ours is a country with a rich history of recycling, upcyling and jugaad. That’s what led me to start thebaksaproject.in.”

“The word ‘baksa’ symbolises my personal and familial history — and the importance of valuing it. My baksa, right now, contains a lot of my mother’s and grandmother’s belongings that they deemed unusable — old saris, suits, tablecloths, hand-embroidered bedcovers, cushion covers, etc. I come from a family of collectors (read hoarders) and for that, I consider myself incredibly lucky. The oldest material in my baksa is my great-grandmother’s 50-year-old Banarasi brocade sari. Over the years, the sari has lost its sheen, but its beauty remains intact.”

“I want my online journal to be an inclusive space for people to learn about sustainable fashion; it is not prohibitive in terms of style or access. For the longest time, I had the preconceived idea that ethical fashion was not for me. On researching about it, I learned that sustainability also meant reusing and repurposing what I already owned. Once I had that understanding, everything else slowly fell into place. You can embrace your personal style sustainably, without burning a hole in your pocket. On my blog, I try my best to cover the topics that young people who are learning about sustainable fashion struggle with.”

“One of my first projects was upcyling a 44-year-old Pochampally silk ikat sari that was handed down to my grandmother from her mother. It had been lying in a baksa for almost 33 years. The challenge was to repurpose the sari without damaging the fabric and make sure it holds and lasts. I work with an excellent tailor who gave the fabric a solid backing and helped me turn it into a gorgeous peplum blazer. The piece is so well constructed that it can stay in my family for many generations to come. I saved the leftover fabric for my future upcycling projects. I don’t let anything go to waste.”

“My workshops are designed with the idea of encouraging people to build a lasting relationship with their garments. I usually teach techniques of visible mending, appliqué, patchwork and embroidery. These are some wonderful methods through which you can add personal touches to your garments, spruce them up, fix them and make them last. Most of my students usually have no prior experience with stitching and embroidery — my youngest was an enthusiastic 10-year-old. Now, when they share pictures of how interestingly they’ve used what I taught them, it is extremely gratifying.”

“I have seen a lot of people who’ve newly learnt about sustainability and Marie Kondo-ing their wardrobes. Sustainability isn’t all about consuming or owning less; it’s also about using well what you already own. Until a few years ago, I used to shop from fast-fashion brands all the time. Now that my commitment has shifted, I am not going to get rid of all of my old purchases and have them end up in landfills. There are two things that have inspired me during my research — mindfulness and memory. And, over the years, learning about fashion has made me approach it more holistically. Fashion has so many historical and cultural connotations that we can never take it at face value — it’s about where a garment came from, who made it, how it was made and what inspired it. When it comes to building a sustainable wardrobe, I’d say the best place to start is your own home. Find a different way to style that dress you’ve worn just once. Go through your mother’s gorgeous old saris, your dad’s old jackets, your brother’s shirts that he’s outgrown — you are bound to come across interesting finds with beautiful histories.”

– Rushmika Banerjee


Aditya Dubey/Student and Environmental Activist

Beta, what have you planned for the future?’ remains the quintessential ‘adult’ question of our teens that plagued us with self-doubt and left us trembling with excitement in equal measure. For the children today, the same question brings forth a different brand of anxiety, dread and hopelessness — will there be enough water to drink or clean air to breathe when they reach adulthood? Will the oceans be filled to the brim with plastic, will they be in a perpetual war for natural resources? Many on the cusp of adulthood are finding that the direction of their education and career is being steered by ecological concerns. While the world leaders are stocking up on war ammunition, youngsters, like this 16-year-old student, have jumped up to fight the government’s inertia and corporations’ ill will that are causing one climate disaster after another. The 11th-standard student started the Plant A Million Trees campaign in 2016. Three years and several campaigns later, Dubey hasn’t given up and is standing up against multinationals and e-commerce giants like Flipkart and Amazon for excessive use of single-use plastic, polluting air and water and placing future generations in jeopardy.

“We are breathing the most polluted air in the world in Delhi. Most of my family and friends have some sickness. Six months ago, I was diagnosed with sinusitis, which is the definition of a nightmare. If the pollution levels don’t reduce fairly soon, a lot of people could die, especially the ones with asthmatic problems. Some of us have access to air purifiers and masks, but can you imagine the plight of the street children? Stubble burning at this time of the year is common knowledge, yet the government didn’t look for any precautionary measures. A few weeks back, we had gone to the PM’s residence to peacefully draw his attention to the air emergency we are facing. The protestors consisted only of young students, but overzealous police officers descended in busloads and started behaving like we were a bunch of criminals.”

“In 2016, I sold my golf kit to fund the Plant A Million Trees initiative. A couple of months back I started another campaign to distribute seeds, for which I sold my PlayStation. Mostly I use my pocket money for the campaigns. After class 10, I wanted to focus on environmental science, but I thought that to help others I have to be successful, and in order to achieve success, I have to study what I am good at. I have been interested in computer science since an early age and I decided to specialise in it. It’s a tough course, and I only manage a few hours in a week for the environmental campaigns. Both are very important to me and it gets difficult to balance. Someday, perhaps, I will combine both. My cousin and I are, in fact, in the process of making an app that accounts for carbon emissions.”

“My biggest fear is that if we continue to turn a blind eye to climate change, then the day is not far when there will be civil strife over natural resources like pure air and clean water. The underprivileged will suffer due to the extreme weather conditions and the lack of clean water. They will suffocate thanks to the polluted air while the privileged classes continue to avoid the immediate consequences of climate change by using air conditioners, air and water purifiers, masks, oxygen bars, etc. Primarily, the governments and leaders have failed us as they hid the real facts from the people and refused to take any action to stop or reduce the effects of climate change.”

“It makes me very angry that the governments and corporations have no regard for climate change policies. The Indian government is not ready to do anything, and the corporations go scot-free despite using single-use plastics, releasing pollutants, etc. It is frustrating that the government doesn’t care about the citizens. I filed a petition in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) against excess plastic packaging by Amazon and Flipkart. These companies are supposed to adhere to the Plastic Waste Management Rules of 2016, but they continue to use excess plastic because the government is not strict enough to enforce those rules. Hopefully, there will be a positive outcome in our next hearing in December or January.”

“A recent series I watched on Netflix, called The 100, is about a nuclear apocalypse that makes our planet uninhabitable. Post-apocalyptic survivors take refuge in a space station for close to a century, after which they try to return to Earth. We don’t have the kind of advanced technology which would allow us to live in a spaceship if we were to face a disaster like that — and we could. The only option for us is to save Earth because there is no spaceship or planet B. This is our only home.”

– Preksha Sharma

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