By Chaitanya Kumar:
The netizens of India are up in arms against the proposed attack on net neutrality. Stand up comedians, Bollywood icons, technology startups and the general online milieu are tweeting their hearts out with the hashtag #SavetheInternet and #IndiaWantsNetNeutrality. As I write this, thousands of complaints are reaching the inboxes of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) which will decide if private companies and internet service providers will be allowed to make profits by segregating the internet and its services.
Internet users expressed their disapproval of companies like Flipkart and Airtel for their stand on net neutrality through creative means; and social media has been at the heart of their response. By using the very tools that the proposed changes affect risk on, people took to petitions, blogs, videos, tweets and Facebook posts to spread the information needed to take action. It is a fantastic example of collective action to tackle what is perceived as a collective risk to the values we hold dear. These values of innovation, open access, individual choice and freedoms are hallmarks of the 21st century and critical for a young and rapidly evolving country like India.
But in other, more ignored parts of the country, there is a much more complex scene at play. Over the last 2 months, more than a 100 farmers have committed suicide owing to crop losses and financial debt due to unseasonal rains. According to numbers released by the agriculture ministry on 26 March, about 11 million hectares (ha), or nearly one-fifth of the rabi crop in the country was damaged due to the unseasonal showers. Wheat produce is expected to decline 5-10% and fears are ripe that food prices are set to rise.
The footprint of climate change on this disaster is unmistakable. Bhupendra Nath Goswami, former director of the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) in Pune says his studies have shown that the occurrence of “extreme rainfall events” had been increasing over the country in the last five-six decades. “We can say with a high degree of confidence that this increasing trend is due to global warming,” he said. Hundreds of scientists in India support this claim, effectively ringing an alarm bell for climate action.
As carbon emissions continue to rise, extreme weather events like unseasonal rainfall, cyclones, floods and droughts are expected to increase in frequency and intensity across India.
While we see creativeness and energy sparked from anger over net neutrality, how is is that in this country we hardly hear a whimper on the very visual and devastating effects of climate change. A problem that very often brings our way of life to a screeching halt through power cuts, heat stress and flooding seems not enough to draw the fierce response required and witnessed through the past few weeks on net neutrality.
There is one thing we cannot ignore; both net neutrality and farmer suicides vis-a-vis climate change are important examples of a global paradigm that has pitted ordinary citizens against big industry, in this case – the telecom and fossil fuel industry. This power struggle has so far, and quite unfairly it seems, been in favor of these huge monolithic powers. With wealth and the accompanying clout to influence and twist policy to their needs, big corporations (barring a few) have consistently infringed on the rights and values of the people.
The need for citizens to become more meaningfully engaged in the political and policy choices of their country is greater than ever before and as a campaigner over the last 6 years, I can say that we cannot let this moment go. I have seen the incredible power that modern tools on the internet offer for change in inspiring collective action on a common cause. They are effective for creating informed citizens and subsequently working with them to influence powers we often feel powerless to take on.
These tools are of course only useful as part of a smart campaign strategy. A strategy that lays out ambition, vision and clarity between the forces at play. In order to see a vibrant India work together as engaged and active citizens, we need to start building a movement. One way to start is to begin skilling up, which is why a few organisations have come together for Campaign Academy India, a training course for young people raring to change the way the system works in our country. The 6 day training followed by an year long mentorship program will highlight successful campaign stories from around the world, present the best practices of digital campaigning, share experiences of engaging with media and discuss other essential aspects of modern day campaigning. Whilst applications for this years academy are closed, we hope to learn from our first training and introduce the program annually.
So, join the campaign academy and help build a movement of active citizenship.
Chaitanya Kumar is South Asia campaigns coordinator for 350.org. The views expressed by the author are personal.