"What you think is a position of knowledge [is] just privilege and nothing else."
The Indian environmental movement has had a long and fascinating history. While young India’s charismatic leaders were instrumental in instituting laws to protect nature and wildlife, powerful social movements fought to bring to light the important connection between development, the environment, and vulnerable people. Environmental justice in the Indian context has arisen from these movements and we now have laws and regulation that are intended to protect people and compensate them for what they stand to lose.
Today we see environmental awareness growing in urban India. The middle classes have agency like never before - suddenly conscious of fragile urban landscapes, they are demanding and coming together for better solid waste management, to clean up roads anonymously and beautifying urban landscapes, to launch huge beach cleaning initiatives, and even taking to the streets to reject large flyovers. Society is starting to move in, fight for and take matters into its own hands.
On the flip side, the poor, vulnerable, and marginalised are also being impacted directly by the poor state of the environment. Justice, in the context of environmental issues is meant to be a leveller. And the extent to which Indian law has expanded these past 70 years, to address environmental justice is admirable. The purview of the law is vast and empowering, when harnessed and leveraged correctly.
In this episode of In the Field, we examine how urban environmentalism can dominate ideas of what kind of planet we want for ourselves, what kind of nature we want to protect, conserve, and how we are going about doing it. While we believe we're fighting a fight for the greater common good, how are we ignoring or forgetting the fight for environmental justice that is about the specific issues faced by the vulnerable? And how do we make a connection between the fight for the greater common good and the fight for justice?
Listen to Kartik Shanker, Director of ATREE on how the Indian conservation movement has evolved from being more nepotistic to becoming more democratic. Kanchi Kohli and Manju Menon explain what lead to the development of environmental regulation in India, and their colleague Maruti Gowda, a clam fisherman from Karnataka tells us how he helps his and other vulnerable communities claim what is rightfully theirs from their local governments - thanks to the CPR-Namati Environmental Justice Programme.
We hear from Priya Ramasubban about her journey and experience as one of the pivotal actors in the Kaikondrahalli Lake rejuvenation effort in Bangalore; and from Leo Saldanha, Head of the Environment Support Group on how caste has been perpetuated in urban India's municipal waste management system. Asher Ghertner, Director of the South Asia Studies programme at Rutgers University discusses the legal discourse around the commons - air being the ultimate commons.
Many thanks to Gramvaani for sharing the first audio clip you heard. Please do take some time and check them out , they do excellent work, and tell very important stories for our times.
Many thanks to Gramvaani for the introductory audio clip.
Photos: Title photo by Radhika Viswanathan. Other photos by Samyuktha Varma and Radhika Viswanathan.
Sounds: Audio clip by Gramvaani.
Theme Music by Hollis Coats. Recorded at Third Eye Recording Studio, Bangalore.
In the Field is supported by Rohini Nilekani Philanthropies.