Poetics of climate crisis in India
At any given moment in India, there are hundreds of sites of people’s resistance against the imposition of state and corporate-sponsored ‘development’ projects: Mining, big dams, highways, industries, tourist resorts, and the like. This builds on an ancient heritage of community protests, from feudal and princely times, through the colonial period and now into independent India.
Many people’s movements assert their rights to land and forests, and water, but they also raise the issue of the destruction of nature being not only a matter of their own survival but also an ethical and spiritual issue. For instance, the 300-year-old protest by the Bishnoi community against the ruler’s order to cut trees to make his palace in Rajasthan was prompted both by livelihood and cultural concerns, since the tree in question (khejadi, Prosopis cineraria) was considered sacred. More recently, the Chipko movement against deforestation in the Himalaya was led by women concerned not only about the impacts on their farming and water sources, but also because the forests were culturally important for them. The same goes for what is possibly India’s most well-known recent movement against the dams on the Narmada river, motivated by opposition to being evicted from their lands as also by the violation of the river’s sacredness.
Most such movements do not identify themselves as climate actions; they are more about livelihoods, land, nature, and an assertion of local democracy. One should not make the mistake of boxing them into climate movements. But they are nevertheless crucial for the desperate struggle to counter the climate crisis. They help slow down the bulldozer of destructive ‘development’ (several dams and mining projects that would have added to the crisis have been stopped); they help conserve vital ecosystems (forests, grasslands, wetlands, marine/coastal areas) and biological diversity (including in agriculture) that are crucial for mitigation and adaptation. Most importantly, they assert ways of life and worldviews that challenge the ideology of developmentalism (and its roots in patriarchy, capitalism, modernity, and racism), and provide clear alternatives to it that can help humanity achieve well-being without trashing the earth and without leaving billions of human beings in deprivation.
Ashish Kothari is with Kalpavriksh, Vikalp Sangam, and the Global Tapestry of
Many people’s movements assert their rights to land and forests and water, but they also raise the issue of the destruction of nature being not only a matter of their own survival but also an ethical and spiritual issue.Ashish Kothari
Undoubtedly, the burden of climate crisis is mostly on the young, both in terms of impact of this crisis as well as responsibility towards fixing it.Vimlendu Jha
Over 70 percent of India’s population is under the age of 35. Undoubtedly, the burden of climate crisis is mostly on the young, both in terms of impact of this crisis as well as responsibility towards fixing it. Sustained bad policies have led to the crisis, though governments try to put the blame on natural factors.
At the same time, India is undergoing its worst phase of unemployment of youth in last 45 years with deepening agrarian crisis and large scale migration of young people from rural areas to the urban areas. Climate crisis is one of the main reasons for this large scale migration, often affecting the economic, social and physical wellbeing of the young people. Erratic rains and floods, large scale drought and water crisis, and widespread air pollution are symptoms of climate crisis, either cause or effect, killing thousands of young people every day.
Youth of India however have been organizing themselves in the most innovative way possible to address the issue of climate crisis. This has been happening at two levels – personal and collective, and personal and political. Despite overwhelming pressure from the consumerist market forces, several young people are adapting to sustainable lifestyles – be it in the sphere of mobility, leisure or food. We have seen the youth anchoring several campaigns such as ‘say no to plastic bags’, ‘say no to fire crackers’ and tree plantation drives.
At the political level, campaigns and protests like Extinction Rebellion and Fridays for Future have gained adequate steam in several cities of the country. In last few months, we have seen young people boycott their school and participate in climate protests, demanding swift and credible response from the local governments. It is a phenomenon yet to become a force to reckon with but the fact that young people have hit the streets is a sign enough to state that they are not taking climate crisis lying down.
Youth activism plays an important role in addressing the problem of climate crisis. Young people need to demand climate justice and climate friendly policies and action from the government. We have seen widespread protests in India with respect to agrarian distress, felling of trees and forests, issues of air pollution, drought and water crisis.
Young people are at the forefront, of facing the brunt of climate crisis, and also fighting climate crisis.
Vimlendu Jha is an activist and social entrepreneur known for his innovative and
unconventional approaches to contemporary environmental and social issues.
Reference: Perspectives Asia, Issue 8, November 2019