When it comes to environmental existential threat, have you ever felt – “Does no one else apart from me get bothered by this?”
You’d be surprised to know that every person who contributes to the problem also tries to play the blame game for it. It might be unintentional but it’s human tendency to feel justified in everything. Simply put, human minds are not equipped to feel responsible for existential problems that affect an entire civilization.
When we chose to continue this forever, we will be ruining everything that is valuable in our lives; our beautiful planet, our future and our health. They don’t show this in the advertisements on TV or Internet. Why? Because loss of priceless resources is not a catchy headline.
If it wasn’t for the recent rise in grassroots movements of conscious lifestyles, even caring about the fair wages of workers, plastic packaging and environmental impact of our products would be considered extreme! But finally, we have begun to warm up to the idea of conscious consumerism, just as the planet itself has begun to get warmer as well.
In a world that is connected digitally, and is rising together to demand action for saving the environment, let’s Take a look at some of the Community Movements in the Indian history. They have not only made a positive impact to the environment but have also inspired people to take collective action, to this day.
The Bishnoi tribe were protectors of trees and animals by the virtue of their cultural beliefs. When Maharaja of Jodhpur ordered the construction of palace which would come at the cost of forest cover near the Khejri village, the bishnoi community, under the leadership of Amrita Devi, hugged the trees saying “A chopped head is cheaper than a felled tree.” Several people were martyred before the maharaja was called to attention and he finally stopped the felling of the trees, apologizing the community and declaring it a protected area. One of the first successful movements made for the protection of ecosystem, this tree hugging silent protest of 1730, went on to inspire Chipko movement as well. Even today, this forest area is protected under Indian legislation.
The Chipko Andolan of 1973 is one of the most popular movements, which even gave birth to the joking phrase “tree hugger” in the west. The movement started in the tribal community in Uttarakhand, who recognized that their source of economic prosperity came from their trees. The volunteers and women began a silent protest by hugging the trees to prevent them from felling. Sundarlal Bahuguna, gandhian in his ideals, spearheaded the movement and coined the Chipko slogan: “ecology is permanent economy”. The livelihoods of several tribal communities were rescued in the success of this non-violent movement
Silent Valley Movement
A hydroelectric dam was to be built in Nilgiri hills of kerala, which would submerge the valley, destroying its ecosystem. In 1970, even in the absence of internet to connect communities across different demographics, the Silent Valley movement is a great success that brought together thousands of people, petitioning, writing letters, and calling their representative government, to take action. The unity and dedication of the people was commendable as they communicated, conducted talks, awareness programmes, lectures and raised their voice together. Activists and academicians protested the collateral damage of the ecosystem as projected by the government would actually be far worse than what they claimed. Delay in funds also aided in their opportunity to push their protests even further. The government tried to go ahead despite these protests but faltered when the attention was caught internationally and the high court of Kerala accepted the petition for a stay order. Due to the unrelenting pressure over the decade by media and public alike, in 1981, Indira Gandhi declared the Silent Valley will be protected.
Navdanya movement of 1984, raised serious concerns about the health impact of genetically modified crops and chemical farming that seeps into our food, pointing towards it as one of the major causes of rise in diseases across our population. Navdanya targeted the industries that replaced organically pollinated seeds into high processed food crops, which required more water and was much lower in nutrition. Vandana Shiva was the founder and face of this movement who created a network of seed keepers and organic producers spread across 16 states in India. They have also set up educational institutions to raise awareness and educate the public for their food security. The movement fought against biopiracy by US and Germany, petitioning to revoke patents over crops and traditional growing methods, and won in 2004. They have contributed to the defence of farmers’ rights, indigenous knowledge and biodiversity.
Jungle Bachao andolan was a landmark movement which gave birth to the Recognition of Forest Act of 2006. Before this act, tribal dwellers were rampantly violated of their lands and their forest cover without their permission, for industrial development or mining purposes. Jharkhand is rich in mineral resources such as copper, mica, uranium and the promise for economic opportunities, but it also has a thick population of tribal communities. The Exploitation even went as far as shooting where 18 people died for raising their voice against the atrocities. Manmohan Singh, then PM of india, started the The Forest Act of 2006 which now protects not only the forests but gives tribes legal rights and ownership over their lands. This was a landmark victory for the traditional forest dwellers and their native ecosystems.
The Appiko Movement was constructive in nature as compared to most movements which are done to protect existing ecosystems. Appiko not only involved activism that aimed to protect the forest cover in western ghats, but it also worked towards regeneration and restoration of denuded areas which were at the risk of turning into rocky hills. It recognized early on the consequences, and post restoration, seeked to maintain these ecosystem by training and teaching citizens to adopt sustainable practices in their homes such as drawing energy from biogas and using chulhas, to reduce dependency on firewood. The movement is a success as the central government recognized the high depletion of natural resources in western ghats, and worked with the movement. It only permits cutting of dead or dying trees, protecting the majority of the forest cover.
Narmada Bachao Andolan
The Narmada Bachao Andolan was a movement that started out to protect the resettlement of the displaced tribal communities that were affected by the construction of dams across the river. But it soon questioned the need for this massive construction itself, that would destroy the ecosystems around the river. The andolan was never a complete success and the protest demanded that the dam could be at least built only upto the height of 80 m instead of the proposed 130 m. A final compromise was made on the height of dam to 90 m. The movement was not only about the environmental damage but soon became a matter of human rights as child labour was highlighted amongst the many issues faced during development. Even the world bank withdrew from the project and it had to be funded by the government and market borrowings. Today, the project is aimed at finishing in 2025.
The Environment Movement
The environment movement of 2015-present can be accredited to an accumulated frustration of the global youth over the inaction of govt to protect the environment from the adverse effects of climate change. Once the IPCC released a report to UN on the urgency to reduce our carbon emissions and to stop the warming at 1.5 degrees, or else humanity will face irreparable consequences of climate change, the uproar in the movement has risen more than ever. A combination of several issues are bundled in this movement, health care access, social equality, environmental apartheid, extinction rebellion, women’s rights and govt lobbying of crude oil companies. Greta Thunberg, a school girl who started a silent protest every Friday, has become the face of this movement and united the youth around the world in pressuring their govt to take action via carbon taxes and strict policies that curbs carbon emissions in their country, and thereby become carbon neutral. The protest continues today and is connected via internet worldwide.
So how do we secure the future for ourselves and the generations to come?
History has taught us that wonders can happen if we all join hands for the cause we must address. After all “Unity is Strength” and it only makes sense to band together now and fight for what is really important. We can all take a few steps from the comforts of our homes:
- By acknowledging our ignorance and finding power in our daily life.
- By making ethical, fair trade and sustainable choices in everything we buy.
- By refusing products that don’t align with our values, and sparking conversations with those confused faces around us.
- By questioning the source, the effort, the ethics of how the product was made from the businesses we buy from.
This classic case of wallet activism is on rise around the world, where consumers drive the demand by changing the products they put their money on. In the age of capitalism, this is a perfect and an effective form of silent protest.