With more awareness about the climate crisis and environmental degradation and the impact it has on humanity and the world, more and more citizens, especially young people have come out demanding for action and change. People are realizing and experiencing the consequences of the ecological crisis we are living in and have consequently mobilised to take action. This is seen in India in the increase in number of environmental and climate movements over the past few years. The movements can be attributed to two main causes, first being the general climate and ecological crisis, and movements around the world demanding action (Extinction Rebellion and Fridays for Future) and second, to the ecologically destructive, capitalist policies and projects brought about by the Modi government in the last six years. 2019 and the last couple of months have seen lots of activity on the front of citizen led environment and climate movements. Climate Strikes, Save Aarey Forest, Withdraw Draft EIA (Environmental Impact Assesment) 2020, Save Mollem(Goa), Save Thano (Dehradun), Baghjan oil well blow out protests, Stop Adani Movement, are some of the few citizen led movements that have taken place this year. Some have been successful, others have met with partial success, while the rest was ignored by the government. There are a lot of factors in the success of any movement and the question on focus here is that what are these factors that make an environment movement important and successful? What are the steps required to mobilise people for an environmental movement?
It has become common knowledge now that Indian TV news media has largely become a mouthpiece for the Indian government. Creating awareness for any movement has become an uphill task as the traditional methods of TV media are no longer efficient. Thus citizens have shifted to utilising social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter for creating awareness about environmental movements. Most movements have an Instagram and Twitter presence which become primary sources of information for that particular movement. Art, videos, infographics, songs, updates on the movement are shared by them regularly and in a short span of time they garner a large number of followers. For example, the government in Goa has proposed three ‘developmental’ projects which are disastrous for the ecology, wildlife and citizens of Goa. Subsequently students and citizens of Goa launched a social media campaign with #SaveMollem, tweetstorms and webinars were organised as well. This was followed by on-ground mobilisation where widespread protests were held and the result has been that at least one of the project clearance has been quashed by the High Court in Goa. Another outcome of such movements having a popular online presence is that it has motivated digital print media followed by traditional media to cover the movement. Thus social media has proved to be an effective tool in creating awareness and mobilising people.
Another method used to mobilise people and drive action is setting up digital infrastructure that allows citizens to send emails to the relevant authorities with one click. This was a major tool for sending objections to the Draft EIA 2020, where three websites were set up that allowed citizens to email their objections to the draft to the Ministry of Environment. The result of this was that it is estimated that 17 lakh objections were sent to the Ministry of Environment by 11th August 2020. This was accompanied by massive social media campaigns where many videos, articles, art and songs, were released along with organising many webinars and seminars to create awareness all of which directed citizens to send objection emails.
Translating the movement into local languages to include more people in the movement is a necessary tool that has been employed by the movements. In the case of Withdraw Draft EIA 2020, translating the draft to regional languages became a major issue. The draft was published in English and Hindi only and in a country where the constitution mandates that the law be translated into regional languages this wasn’t done despite Delhi HC and Madras HC orders directing the government to do the same. This left out a significant majority of people that couldn’t understand the draft which would impact their lives greatly. Consequently youth and citizen groups took it upon themselves to translate the draft and circulate it widely. Similarly there has been a push to publish more and more content generated by the environmental movements to reach a wider audience and drive people to action.
Politics can no longer be separated from environmental movements. The Save Aarey agitation in Mumbai had become a political issue due to constant agitation over the years, multiple protests, court battles and media campaigns. Shiv Sena had campaigned to people on protecting the forests and subsequently declared it a forest and removed the Metro car shed project from Aarey.
Thus social media, digital infrastructures, regional inclusivity and political mobilization of issues are effective tools for mobilizing people and making successful environmental movements.
Mehek Bhargava is a student of Political Science at Ashoka University and the co-founder of youth organization Millennials For Environment.
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