“I’m happy that we are fighting for each other and our survival”, says Disha Ravi, a 22-year-old climate activist in the frontline of the climate fight in India. The Bengaluru based activist’s world turned upside down when she was arrested in February and was charged with sedition and criminal conspiracy for sharing and editing a social media toolkit advocating farmers’ protests. 10 days later, a judge granted her bail finding the evidence against her insufficient.
On 03 November 2020, Maktoob spoke to Disha Ravi about India’s climate policies and representation of India in COP26.
The Prime minister at COP26 claimed that India is emerging as a leader of climate justice but statistics totally contradicts it. What is your take on it?
Disha Ravi: What the Prime Minister promised at COP26 is actually fairly ambitious. I know everyone is caught up with the net-zero targets by 2070. To be honest, that’s a very fair target but I personally think net-zero isn’t something we should be chasing after all. It’s a galvanizing tool but it won’t achieve much. So except for the net-zero target and 50% of renewable energy —which his team later corrected instead of electricity, achieving 50% renewable energy was actually renewable electricity by 2030 — I don’t think we are consistent with what we’re saying outside of the country. The policies we have inside as we ask for one trillion dollars from developed countries to essentially get better and take climate action but we don’t have a plan to take climate action. We were diluting environmental policies in our own countries, none of the targets he’s promised in COP 26 is consistent with our existing policies. If we want to achieve those targets we will have to put the climate at the heart of every single policy in India. And leave putting it at the heart of everything, the existing environmental policies were diluted to make it worse. I don’t think they are consistent at all.
Unless I see proactive actions to execute policies I’m not going to be impressed because a good policy is only a good policy when it’s executed not when it’s spoken about and until that happens I’m not going to applaud him for pretty words.
How did Fridays for Future start in India and how did you get involved?
Disha: It was and still is a people’s movement and in India. We, at some point, recognized that there isn’t a proper youth movement that’s focused on the climate. Although people who got together to kick off Fridays for future in India were doing environmental activism in some form or the other, I think this was the first effort to make it a youth movement that’s focused on the environment and that’s essentially how we started.
We all just met each other saying ‘Oh my God we need to do something’ with posting that on the Internet and other people also like ‘Oh yeah’ and then that’s especially having started first in like Mumbai, Delhi, and Bangalore; the big cities, very urban and we have expanded to a lot of other cities and not just the urban cities and it’s weird that we’re really big.
Why did you choose to be in Friday’s For Future?
Disha: I don’t think there was a youth movement in India particularly that was focusing on the environment. So there weren’t other options honestly and we believed in the principles that Friday’s for future had. Then we eventually went on to build up our own principles. It is not hierarchical even in India or in any other countries and we really like that Flat structure because we believe in everyone having an equal right to say what they want and we believe in equity as well more than equality. I think that’s essential because our values aligned is why a lot of people choose Fridays for Future.
Have you seen any change in public opinion? Is there a lot of participation in a couple of years?
Disha: Yes, I think that the youth of India definitely care about the climate crisis. We’ve had a lot of people join. We actually had a hard time onboarding people because there were a lot of people who want to join and we didn’t know how to onboard them. I think one of our really amazing campaigns was last year when the government passed amendments to the existing environmental impact assessment or the EIA. FFF came together with other environmental movements across the country to form a coalition. We worked with researchers to understand why the draft isn’t the best idea, form a letter with our objections and suggestions on how to improve the existing EIA and how the draft amendments they had made wasn’t the best policy. We managed to mobilize over 20 lakh people to send emails with their suggestions and objections. The emails, because it was during the pandemic and no one could go out and that’s why the government had requested to send emails if we had objections.
We have seen it’s mostly marginalized that are most affected, what is your take in solving this problem?
Disha: So, we started MAFA (Most Affected People in Areas) last year during the pandemic when we realized that a lot of the conversation is in about even the climate crisis, it’s in the future when in reality people today are suffering from the climate crisis and we wanted to change that and we wanted to make sure that people who are most impacted by the climate crisis are at the frontline of climate conversations and negotiations and that is why we started MAFA and I’m very happy with where we have come because even at for cop it was ‘two indigenous’, ‘two adivasis’ from our team who are at COP and one other person who had to go from her university, even in the three delegation ; two of them are women, it’s the fact that it’s a woman led team and two adivasis get to be there and it’s only fair because even though I’m pretty sure you and I’ve had to experience the climate crisis at some point time in our life, they have to suffer climate injustice throughout their lives, so I think that it is important to focus on and that is why they are at COP today.
Websites like Fridays for future were blocked during this campaign, was that a sort of hindrance? How did Friday’s for future deal with it?
Disha: Honestly it was, but I don’t think the government takes criticism very well whether it’s the environment or other. So they blocked our website which essentially was a hindrance because our website was where the letter was and well the resources to understand why this was a bad idea. People could go there and read things, understand it and send an email. They essentially blocked that off so we couldn’t do it. We did get it back after filing a response to the request by the police, but it took away a lot of days especially during the pandemic. When your website is what you used to essentially share knowledge, it is a huge hindrance. It was in short how they are blocking huge voices in the country.
Why is the government attacking questions and issues that are raised by the youth of our country?
Disha: The government is scared of any form of dissent by anyone so yeah I think that sums up everything.
Have you seen any change in the participation of youths after what happened in your case? Are they reluctant to speak up?
Disha: I think the opposite happened and a lot of more people are actually aware of the environment and I personally think a lot more people joined in asking for environmental rights and you know climate issues and I’m happy about it and I’m happy about the fact that more people are involved.
During COVID19, the activism was restricted to only online platforms so how did these social platforms help in your activism?
Disha: I think during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was interesting because while it brought people closer together because we were all online and everything but I also think a lot of people weren’t connected and we don’t know their stories. We couldn’t reach them as they didn’t have Internet. I think these are some of the stories that will go on hold and I think Pari Network did a lot of amazing work that even environmental impacts in rural India that did get highlighted, that we weren’t able to reach. I think we need to make active efforts once the pandemic is over to go back to doing on-ground activism.
Q9: With new guidelines of the IT rules that the government has announced to curb the abuse of social media, do you think this could create problems in your work?
Disha: I think the government has been so strict on activists and dissent in general that from the starting we had problems but the IT rules did make it worse. It really curbs on how I think I understand engaging with each other on social media. Because so many of us are dependent on social media for even raising awareness especially when at a time when we can’t be on ground. I think the IT rules will impact activists but also it will impact people in general about how their privacy and data is violated.
Q10: What do you think should be the response of the government?
Disha: I think they need to acknowledge that this is a crisis and instead of saying things like life, lifestyle for the environment which they’ll say at international platforms. The fact that the Prime Minister flew in private jets, he is opening airport for water jets around the country while no one except rich people use it and but it’s coming at a great environmental cost. So his lifestyle is so contradictory. So I think just acknowledging that you know policies aren’t prioritizing in mind and we aren’t taking it seriously should be where we start.