09 May 2018 Story Cities and lifestyles

The Indian woman on a walking mission to beat plastic pollution

Rajeshwari Singh, a 32-year-old from Vadodara in western India, is on her way to Delhi. But this feisty young woman hasn’t chosen the easiest way to get to the capital. As temperatures soar across North India, with a blistering summer setting in, Singh will walk to Delhi on foot, travelling through 22 major cities and covering more than 1,100 kilometers.

And this is more than just a walk in the garden. Singh’s walk to the capital – which she began on 22 April and will take six weeks to complete – is aimed at raising awareness about pollution caused by plastic.  

Singh’s walk of awareness – which has been hailed by Rajendra Trivedi, the Assembly Speaker from her home state of Gujarat – comes in the run-up to World Environment Day on 5th June, which this year is being hosted by India.

Singh has chosen the theme “My Waste, My Responsibility” for her walk. Her aim is simple: to create awareness among the people she meets en route to stop the use of plastic and to use this opportunity to raise funds for her own organization.

“I am walking with totally 0% pollution, avoiding any type of plastic packaged food, drinks or even water. As I am not using any type of plastic for years I will meet people en route [along] my walk and interact with them. In my awareness walk I will cover 22 major cities and four states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana and NCR [National Capital Region] to reach Delhi on 5th June, which is World Environment Day,” said Singh. The Gujarat tourism department and the UN Environment Programme are supporting Singh’s endeavour.

Singh, who has not used any kind of plastic for the last 10 years, wants to inspire the same kind of behaviour among the people she meets on her walk. Singh will cover a distance of up to 30 kilometers a day, walking in the early morning or late evening to avoid the soaring temperatures across Northern India.

Singh aims to use her walk to raise funds to support work in the fields of education, research and waste management. One such initiative is her “Caravan classroom”, which supports the rag picking community in her native Vadodara.

Rajeshwari Singh
Rajeshwari Singh is on her way to Delhi. (© Rajeshwari Singh)

So far on her walk, Singh has had many small adventures, like the day a stray dog ran away with her shoe. “I tried chasing the dog, but it kept running with my shoe in its mouth. Finally, I found it a few metres down the road. It sounds funny now, but at that time I was very worried how I will walk without my shoe.”

There have been some distressing moments as well. “A couple of times I was chased by men on a motorbike,” recalls Singh, “but I dealt with it,” she adds dismissively.

In spite of the challenges she faces on her journey, Singh remains committed to her goals. She has not used any plastic along the way or had water from a plastic bottle. She stays in government rest houses and chats with the people she meets there about plastic pollution and the alternatives they can use. She also visits schools and other community institutions.

Since she drinks water locally and has refused to buy plastic bottles, Singh has observed how the water tastes different in every city, town and village. “I would never have known these subtle differences had I just bought packaged water along the way,” she says.

Sometimes people join her for a section of her walk, at other times she is mostly alone. Her feet are now caked with blisters, but for this girl on a walking mission, her spirit is undeterred.

#BeatPlasticPollution is the theme of World Environment Day 2018.