The youth (18-25-year olds) make up more than half of the global population, and India has the largest youth population, of around 356 million (UN 2014). Yet, the most ‘youthful’ country is yet to ensure that the youth of this country is part of any local or global decision-making spaces.
As a young person, in their 20s, we already have the misfortune of having to live through and witness environmental disasters emerging as a result of the activities and decisions of our previous generations. The air and water pollution, forest depletion, land degradation, biodiversity loss, inequalities, and displacement of communities make the future generations extremely vulnerable, reduces their ability to lead a dignified life, and threatens their ability to exercise their fundamental rights.
This then further marginalises the youth from vulnerable backgrounds like Adivasi, Dalit communities, women, those from rural areas, people with disabilities, people from LGBTQI+ communities, and others. The destruction of the environment destroys the rest of nature and then leads to the inability to exercise our fundamental rights and the ability to lead a dignified and healthy life. This includes the unborn, which also deserve to enjoy the same environmental conditions that our ancestors had before the earth began to get irreversibly damaged.
At United Nations summit, scheduled to be held in New York in the month of September, the conservationists and biologists will present their confirmed findings to showcase strong links between the increasing numbers of deadly new pandemics with the levels of deforestation and biodiversity loss that continue at their current catastrophic rates[i]. The experts warn that with this continued destruction, five or six epidemics a year might soon affect the Earth’s population.
Meanwhile, the decision-makers in my home country are blatantly ignoring these warning signs. India has lost dense forests that are one-and-a-half times Delhi’s (India’s Capital) expanse in just the last two years[ii]. India has 21 cities out of 30 listed as the most polluted cities in the world in 2019, and these have immense health and environmental repercussions.
Our rivers run polluted, damned, and diverted. We have ruined our lakes and oceans, and are moving towards mass commercialisation of fisheries and related livelihoods at a rapid rate. The resultant environmental destruction has led to immense loss of livelihoods, cultural and physical displacement for tens of millions of people.
Why is the Government then not paying attention to these expert findings and studies? Why is the post-COVID recovery plan centring on opening 40 new coal fields for commercial mining in India’s most ecologically diverse and sensitive forests[iii]? Why was the draft Environmental Impact Notification (EIA) notifications 2020 proposed in the first place?
Whose recovery is the government really concerned about? Because these in no way to ensure the recovery of the most marginalised populations, neither does it ensure a healthier India for future generations? The ease of doing business, at the cost of immediate as well as future generations, and this unbridled exploitation of nature and people, is not what the youth wants.
The past few months of active resistance and struggle especially led by the young people around draft EIA 2020 that further dilutes the provisions of environmental clearance has signalled a shift. The concern for environment and climate crises spilt from a narrow section within the civil society to a much larger section. This is great because there are a few times when we respond to the situations of crises in a cross-sectoral way. The possibility to see that the environmental crises are closely connected to socio-cultural-political and economic crises and a result of neo-liberal, capitalist systemic violence, is a ray of hope.
But, more importantly, the youth has emerged as the potent force against this neo-colonisation in the name of development that is deeply anti-democratic. This development was expected to leave a large section of the population destitute, disadvantaged, and devoid of the possibility of defining their own ways of social life.
As the youth of the country and the ones who are facing the psychological, physical impacts of climate and ecological crises, we need to be included in the decision-making processes at all levels. We need to be part of the decisions for our present as well as our future.
We need ‘intergenerational life agreements’ wherein we list down the measures that must be adopted aimed at reducing the massive deforestation, restoring ecological flows, decommissioning dams, stopping extractive industries in biodiversity-rich regions, and displacement of local communities. This has to be corroborated with national, regional, and local implementation strategies that are directed towards climate change adaptation.
This idea has a valid precedent from Colombia, where the Supreme Court of Justice in Colombia[iv] ordered the government to create an ‘intergenerational pact for the life in Colombian Amazon’. Some Native American tribes already had this in their worldview, evaluating every action they take on its possible impacts on the 7th generation[v] from now; articulating a truer vision of direct democracy.
The intergenerational agreement would mean that the decisions of today must have an additional clause to evaluate the impacts of each industrial activity on the environment, health and wellbeing of the future generations especially the most vulnerable, deprived and marginalised including of non-humans.
It would also importantly insert the aspect of multi-dimensional impacts, i.e. analysis of environmental decisions on social justice issues, democracy, economic wellbeing as well as cultural knowledge.
The points of this agreement should go through consultations at varied levels with a bottom-up approach and among the most disadvantaged.
For far too long we’ve seen nature as merely a basket of natural resources for human beings’ use and exploitation but we have a sacred obligation to protect and restore our forests, rivers and lands, and those responsibilities fall upon the shoulders of the prime minister of India, the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Water and Agriculture, and the people of India. And we must get our act together.
Recently, a Janta Parliament was held between August 16 to 21 online by a number of concerned social networks, groups, and the organisations in India, at the behest of Parliament not being in session during the COVID-period. In this period, when the people of this country needed government’s support the most, the government instead used this period of lockdown to promote anti-people and anti-environment policies.
The primary objective of Janta Parliament was thus to demonstrate that the parliament can be held and importantly to articulate peoples’ agenda. During the environment session, the youth[vi] stressed on the need of systemic inclusion of young people at all decision making spaces (such as committees to evaluate development projects, processes of environmental impact assessment, local to national bodies of governance, policy-making, and more).
The Atmanirbhar Bharat package must urgently be redesigned to ensure the ecological, social, and political implications for the present and the future generations. The youth asserted that the generation of local livelihoods for the young must focus on the principles of ecological integrity and localised economy.
The time is ripe to recognise the rights of nature as the rest of the species have as much right to live in this plant as humans.
The rights of nature would mean that the ecological causes and conditions making up the natural habitat are to be protected to maintain an ecosystem’s identity and integrity.
This does not put an end to other localised, subsistence-based human needs related to that ecosystem, but rather pushes for a healthy relationship of respecting ecosystems and ending ‘extractivism’.
Importantly, the young of this country seek inspiration from past people-led movements like Chipko Andolan, Narmada Bachao Andolan, Jungle Bacho Manav Bacho Andolan, among many others, that not only resisted the destruction of lands, waters and forests but have also through their resistance articulated their own ways of being.
We are also seeking inspiration from current movements of resistance and creation of alternatives by grassroots communities and movements.
These movements must inform our struggles for just, equitable and ecologically resilient futures. To see some of these stories, head here.
[ii] Indian Express, ‘Explained: Reading the new State of Forest Report 2019’
[v] The 7th generation principle is believed to have originated with Iroquois who are a indigenous confederacy in Northeast North America.
[vi] Here the youth is not a homogenous category. The author is not suggesting that these are the demands of all the youth of this country. These demands were put forth by youth representatives from some youth networks and/or environment focussed organisations.