By Joanna Slater and Niha Masih
NEW DELHI — A grayish haze filled the park as the yoga practitioners gathered for their daily exercise early Thursday morning. Anywhere else the haze might have been fog or mist, but Delhiites know better: For the second time in as many weeks, the smog was so severe that the city took the emergency step of closing schools.
But the yoga devotees saw no reason to stay home — and no reason to wear anti-pollution masks. “I’ll look like a fool if I wear a mask,” said R.L. Khattar, a 92-year-old resident of a nearby lower-income neighborhood, prompting laughter from the others. Delhi’s bad air had given him a recurring cough and feelings of breathlessness. But a mask makes Khattar feel “claustrophobic.”
Standing nearby, Prem Gupta, 52, concurred. No one in his family wears a mask, including his children. “Pollution won’t stop if you wear a mask, so what’s the point?” he asked.
Researchers at the University of Chicago conducted surveys around mask-wearing behavior among 3,500 of Delhi’s poorest residents. They found that the awareness of the harm pollution causes is still relatively low and that social norms may discourage people from wearing masks.
Even if local and federal authorities take strong actions to combat Delhi’s bad air, it “would take a number of years for pollution to come down,” said Kenneth Lee, one of the researchers. “In the meantime, defense is sort of important.”