Fridays for Future: The 2019 Climate Strike
Thousands of Indians, both children and adults, came out responding to the Climate Strike held between the 20th and 27th September. Here’s the ground report.
Inspired by the School Strike for Climate movement started by Swedish climate activist, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, the movement snowballed into an event that spanned continents, crossing the boundaries of age, race, and origin, uniting the world against legislative action that would endanger the fragile condition of our planet. The worldwide general climate strike, popularly known as the Earth Strike began on the 20th of September, 2019, three days before the United Nations Climate Summit. Protests will take place across 4,500 locations in 150 countries around the planet until the 27th of September.
The youth of India was no exception. Frustrated with air quality and anxious with worries about the future, children and adults alike stepped out into the crowded streets, aided by colourful banners and resounding cries that heralded the coming of a new age of conservation and environmental responsibility.
In Mumbai, 200 protesters gathered on the shores of Juhu beach to draw attention to local climate change issues. Decentralised strikes were also held at 17 schools and colleges by Fridays For Future Mumbai, Greenline Mumbai and Extinction Rebellion Mumbai. Millennials and Gen Z-ers from Delhi gathered near Lodhi Garden in Delhi, chanting statements popularized by Thunberg and other European voices for change. The protesters marched to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate change, where they met with police offers attempting to disperse the incensed crowd. Undeterred, the young voices for environmental conservation planted themselves in seated groups in the streets, parroting their slogans and chants, prideful in the powerful collective spirit of the movement.
Sandeep Mampalli of the Hyderabad Vegans joined protests organised by the Citizens of Hyderabad at the People’s Plaza as part of the Fridays for Future events. “Animal agriculture and livestock farming are some of the biggest contributors towards greenhouse gas emissions,” he quotes. ”We have to put pressure on our local authorities now for the sake of our future. If we don’t act quickly, within the next 12 years, this will be out of our hands.”
Amongst the voices for the movement emerged that of Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Showing his support through a series of tweets, the holy man stressed that the younger generation’s concern is legitimate and that they are adopting a realistic stance towards their future. “It’s quite right that students and today’s younger generation should have serious concerns about the climate crisis and its effect on the environment,” the Nobel Peace laureate tweeted from his seat in Dharamshala. “They are being very realistic about the future. They see we need to listen to scientists. We should encourage them,” he added.
Photographer and filmmaker Ron Bezbaruah had the unique opportunity to document the protests in Dharamshala through the lens of his camera. Having moved to Himachal Pradesh about a month ago, Ron had been following the news surrounding the protests for quite some time. Being disconnected physically from the cause, however, the extent of his activism took the form of a couple of scattered and ineffective Facebook posts, as it is wont to do in the world today. Doing his bit towards the cause, Ron reached out to friends and family across India and asked them to do their best to participate.
“I kind of feel like governments and the leaders of the world today see social media as a way for them to buy time,” Ron says. “Look at the Aarey issue, I have been in touch with many activists, helping them round people up for the cause- but even with so many people coming out and joining the effort, the protests were not aggressive enough for anyone with authority to take notice in a way that will affect legislation. I use social media too, but in the world of online-activism, causes change every day, one day you are protesting for one thing, and the next day the rest of the world has forgotten about it, allowing decision-makers to move forward with legislation that is harmful to the way we live our lives. We need to make the leaders uncomfortable, corner them in a way that is non-violent, but still conveys the message that this cause, this outrage is here to stay.”
Speaking on the protests in Dharamshala, Ron says, “I got in touch with the people at Fridays for Future and found out that there was a protest happening in Mcleodganj. The minute I heard about it, my friend and I set out in our time between our Music Production classes. We made posts and got the message out, and I even got some of my filmmaking and photography peers to document the cause around the nation. There might not be much scope for personal gain, but when you look back on an event like this in the history books, it’s moments like these, captured on film, that gives you a sense of hope, and of determination, because if those people in the past could stand up for a cause that mattered, a cause that they believed in, why can’t we?”
Braving the rain and the cold, Ron set out with his camera to shoot the protest. There, he was met with a powerful sight. Amongst the passionate cries for change and the vibrant colours of the many banners and signs that hung in the air, was a young street performer, her face painted white to match the cloth that was draped around her, spattered in the red colours of blood- a symbol of our ailing planet and the cause to resurrect it. Others gathered in the streets, their mouths taped over as a metaphor for the silent outrage of mother earth.
“We live in a visual age, where the most important messages are conveyed through pictures and film. The Earth Strikes in Dharamshala demonstrated this beautifully.” Ron quotes.
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