Indigenous Climate Activist in India / South Asia | Earth Day 2022


“Are we able?” 


“Are we willing?”

“That’s the unanswered question.” 


Those were the two questions proposed by Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin (State in the US) regarding our ability to fight for climate change, who originated the idea to celebrate Earth Day. This idea came through when the Senator witnessed massive oil spills in Santa Barbara, California. 


To bring public attention to air and water pollution, Nelson targeted college students and formulated teach-in on college campuses. They marked April 22 as the date, since it falls after the summer break and before exams. This ensured maximum participation from students. 20 million Americans took to the streets to protest against environmental degradation on that day.     


In 1992, the day garnered support not only from the US but from 141 countries that put environmental issues on the global stage. This also prompted the United Nations to host its first international Earth Summit in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Ever since Earth Day is observed every year. 


Theme For Earth Day (2022)  

The theme for this year’s Earth Day is ‘Invest in Our Planet’. Climate Change needs investment from every individual, whether or not they consider themselves an activist. The investment can be as small as switching to sustainable ways of life or as big as demanding our government leaders to make a switch from fossil fuel energy to sustainable energy methods and holding industries responsible for the waste they generate.       


Indigenous People and Climate Change 

The population of indigenous people is estimated to be 476 million worldwide, which is a 6%  share of the world population. They also hold about 25% of the world’s surface, taking care of 80% of the world’s biodiversity. 


Indigenous people have the ancestral knowledge to understand the effects of climate change and they can help find solutions to mitigate them. They are also the ones who bear the brunt of climate change’s adverse effects. The onslaught of oil companies and developmental projects in indigenous regions puts the livelihood of these people in danger. This not only causes harm to our environment but also infringes on the human rights of indigenous people. 


Taking this into consideration, in COP21 in 2015, a group named Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform were formed to give representation to this community. This is the first step toward inclusivity to fight climate change, recognition of indigenous rights, and their ancestral knowledge.


To further bolster this, we have formulated a list of Indigenous people who are fighting for climate change in South Asian countries. 


Archana Soreng 

Born into a Khadia tribal community from Odisha, 26-year-old Archana Soreng voiced her climate concerns at the UN Secretary General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change. She believes that tribal communities should be included in every step of the decision-making process as they live in proximity to nature.  


Soreng did her Masters in Regulatory Governance from TISS. She is now a Research Officer at TISS Forest Rights and Governance Project. She works to document indigenous knowledge and the cultural practices to preserve this knowledge. She also wants this knowledge to be available in different formats so that it can be easily accessible to people. Tribal communities are becoming victims of climate policies and Soreng believes they need to be leaders of climate change. 


Dayamani Barla 

Dayamani Barla is a climate activist and journalist. She hails from an Indigenous community in Jharkhand. Barla’s first protest was when she was an MCom student. She fought against the Koel-Karo dam project of the state government that could have drowned the villages near the rivers including the 27,000 acres of forest and 55,000 acres of land. 


But the biggest victory she fought was against the steel giant Arcelor Mittal in 2008 which was proposed to construct a plant in their village. This project could have grabbed the tribal land of 12,000 hectares while also hampering their water sources. 


She works for a Hindi newspaper Prabhat Khabar to bring the problems of tribal communities to the forefront. She has also been a recipient of the Counter Media Award for Rural Journalism. 


Prakash Bhoir 

Prakash Bhoir belongs to the Warli Community living in Aarey Forest Region. Aarey is the only green cover for the Mumbai region that is otherwise usually covered in skyscrapers with minimal recreational spaces. 


Aarey region is the home and space of livelihood for the Warli Community. In the years, Aarey has faced an onslaught of many developmental projects. Bhoir has been instrumental in voicing the issues of the community and protecting the forest area. The recent protest by Bhoir and his community was for the Metro Car shed that was proposed to be built in the Aarey region. The protest proved instrumental in changing the location of the Car Shed to another area. 


Bhoir has to balance between his job in the water department in the civic body of Mumbai and being the deputy chief of Shramjeevi Sanghatana which fights for indigenous rights in Mumbai. 


Mina Susana Setra 

Mina belongs to a Dayak community from Bornea. She is Deputy Secretary-General of the Indigenous People’s Alliance of the Archipelago. It is an alliance of Indonesian tribal communities that works for tribal rights.  


Mina’s childhood home was converted into an oil palm plantation by the Indonesian government. The conversion to the single plantation had made the diverse forests into a monoculture which limits the incentive for the indigenous people. These people either fall out of this type of agricultural farming or had to do subsistence farming to feed themselves. 


Setra was instrumental in lobbying the Indonesian government to recognize the customary rights of indigenous people in the Indonesian forests. She and her allies won this constitutional court case in 2012. 


She is also of the opinion that climate policies will not succeed if the rights of tribal people are not taken into consideration. She also runs a television outlet called Ruai TV to give voices to her community members in the form of citizen journalism.   


Minnie Degawan 

Minnie Degwan is from the Kankanaey-Igorot community in the Philippines. Belonging to that community, she has always been vocal about the rights of indigenous people since childhood.  


She worked as a community organizer and educator in Cordillera Peoples Alliance, an organization working for indigenous people. As a representative of this alliance, she also worked for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People in Geneva. 


For the advocacy of indigenous rights in the global south region, she with other activists formed the International Alliance of Indigenous Tribal Peoples of the Tropical Forests. She is the Executive Director of Dinteg, a resource center with lawyers and law students who analyze the impacts of laws on indigenous communities. 


To answer Senator Nelson’s question, indigenous people’s answers are in affirmation. They are willing to take the plunge but ‘Are our leaders willing to hear them and protect their rights?”. Well, that’s the unanswered question now.

Mapping and negotiating power

Uncuff India Episode 10: Dimensions of conflict and peace: visioning a utopian world

Uncuff India Episode 9: Civic space and dissent: A pathway to social justice

Feminist Justice and Trauma-Informed Support in Institutions


On 27th March 2022, One Future Collective hosted an IG Live on ‘Feminist Justice and Trauma-Informed Support in Institutions’ hosted by Shreya, Senior Program Officer at One Future Collective. She was joined by Ashita, a lawyer pursuing her Master of Laws from Harvard Law School, and Disha, an activist and social researcher. The conversation revolved around the significance of trauma-informed support at individual and institutional levels and identifying how institutions can be systems of care and practice feminist justice. 

The conversation started with the question of what feminist justice or trauma-informed care means and how they can be linked together. Ashita opened the discussion with her definition of feminist justice. She mentioned how the state and the justice system functions according to the male point of view in its structure and design. She emphasised how feminist justice would dismantle these structures and create new ones that lead to an equal, fair balance of power within society and institutions. Such an institution would not judge or put unfair blame, and the system would be aware that the actions of survivors are affected by their trauma and the psychosocial or physical effects of trauma. The justice delivery system also needed to teach a survivor-centric approach and give survivors power and agency to make their own decisions and put them at the center of our understanding. For instance, they should not be forced to face their perpetrator. Ashita also critiqued how the Indian justice system was only carceral, which survivors had to either opt in or opt-out of without any alternatives. Disha added that feminist justice would recognize how survivors needed a sensitive, trauma-informed, and positive approach. Disha looked at trauma-informed care from a service framework that would allow the survivor to heal in a sensitive cultural framework. It is also essential to develop a holistic understanding of what trauma means, including institutional discrimination and unfair hierarchy. 

Since there has been a rise in a systematic approach to addressing trauma and vicarious trauma, Shreya asked if we see this change in India and how we can explore it further. Ashita mentioned how we had come a long way since trauma-informed conversations have started in various institutions and legal and medical professions. Different judgments have noted how the state and criminal justice system must create a guideline for interacting with survivors, providing mental health support and covering medical expenses. The MHRD has also released guidelines that explain how trauma can affect survivors and how survivors should not be asked about their previous sexual history. While these resources exist, their implementation differs from state to state; it depends on the training of the police and judicial officers, and there is no uniformity across the board. She mentioned how institutions also had to be trauma-informed to provide relief to survivors along with sensitive lawyers. 

Shreya pointed out how the current system or the policies in institutions may end up in retraumatization of a person or a collective group as they reinforce unequal power dynamics or fail to ensure their safety and the kind of alternatives to rework the system. Disha spoke of how survivors have to narrate their trauma repeatedly in an environment that is not safe, sensitive, or supportive. There is also a tendency to focus on physical harm, while financial or emotional abuse are mostly neglected. The ‘innocent until proven guilty’ approach also hinders survivors from asking for positive assistance, and people don’t support them until a verdict is given. Disha mentioned how One Future Collective’s knowledge course for lawyers who work with survivors was also important. 

Next, Shreya read out a small part from OFC’s resource on trauma-informed support and care. The paragraph was about the need for legal professionals or doctors to be trauma-informed to be inclusive, transparent, and sensitive to survivors. The paragraph also noted how the term ‘institutional trauma’ was used for structural oppression. However, such a term often made trauma an individual experience and neglected its sociopolitical contexts. Ashita questioned why we look at trauma from an individualist perspective in the first place. She mentioned how institutions could avoid responsibility for their discriminatory actions and structures by not confronting the trauma they have caused to marginalized communities. A sociopolitical understanding was essential to recognize and dismantle these structures and hold them accountable. 

The conversation then turned to how policymakers play a part in ensuring trauma-informed institutions. Ashita mentioned how creating compassionate policies is vital for creating trauma-informed institutions, and the policymakers themselves need to understand the approach. Disha pointed out the need for cross-sector collaboration to facilitate sustainable change and provide funding. Ashita also mentioned that neutral policies were hardly ever survivor-sensitive and were designed to fail since they are applied to non-neutral societies. Thus, the institutions themselves must be cognizant of the institutional trauma and inculcate a sensitive and supportive design.


You can watch the full video here:

Mapping and negotiating power

Uncuff India Episode 10: Dimensions of conflict and peace: visioning a utopian world

Uncuff India Episode 9: Civic space and dissent: A pathway to social justice

Human Rights and the Role of Civil Society


On 24th March 2022, One Future Collective hosted an IG Live on ‘Human Rights and the Role of Civil Society,’ moderated by Shefali from India Education Collective. She was joined by Lisa Majumdar, a part of Civicus, Megha, a researcher, and Vihaan, a senior campaign associate at Haiyya. The conversation provides unique insights into how human rights in India are increasingly under threat and civil society’s role in protecting them. 

The conversation started with the proposal to implement a state-wide legal framework to ensure journalists’ safety across the nation. Megha pointed out that the freedom of the press in India is threatened, and journalists often face violence from the state and the police. She noticed how journalists who did not condone the government openly were the safest; otherwise, they faced state-sanctioned violence. She noted how it was essential to look at the Civil Protection Act and the ethics of the IT rules and guidelines. Lisa added that the state should and needs to protect its journalists and have clear policies to ensure that all data remains encrypted. 

The conversation then turned to how the Covid-19 pandemic saw an interaction between technology and civil society and how that should be acknowledged using the framework of human rights. Vihaan talked about the challenges that Haiiya faced and their learnings while helping DBA and trans or queer youth during the pandemic. Vihaan mentioned how the young people were not just affected at the individual level but also collectively, as their right to life and access to shelter and food was hampered. People could not move out of their houses, labourers could not return to their homes, and sex workers also stopped earning. It was the state’s responsibility to protect people’s rights and care for their needs during such times.

However, it failed to provide for its citizens adequately, so civil society had to step in. The social welfare schemes launched by the state were not sufficient and inaccessible to most people it targeted due to lack of documentation. Vihaan further mentioned that while Haiyya does not generally provide needs-based services, it felt the need to intervene in domestic violence or abuse cases. Young women and transpeople’s sexual rights and health rights were specifically affected, as transpeople could not access hormones that were gender-affirming and life-saving.

The conversation then turned to how the state has suspended the FCRA license of many voluntary organizations and NGOs and how these organizations can move forward and cope in such a situation. Lisa spoke of the crucial nature of foreign funding and global operations management in such a case and the need for these organizations to maintain a functioning democracy. Megha also emphasized the importance of awareness-raising while challenging the positive image that the government maintains on a global level instead of providing state support. The civil society also took up collective responsibility and provided continuous support to challenge structural oppression, build awareness, and advocate for the rights of marginalized communities during the pandemic. 

Towards the end, Lisa talked about how Civicus uses quantitative data and qualitative reports, and information from around the world to prepare holistic reports about governments worldwide. Megha stressed the need for police reform as the police often perpetuated violence on behalf of the state and harassed civil society organizations or journalists. She pointed out how policing became harsher during civil society protests with UAPA and Section 144. Lisa concluded the discussion by stressing the need for a more fundamental change in society to strengthen the protection of human rights.

Watch the full Instagram Live here: 

Mapping and negotiating power

Uncuff India Episode 10: Dimensions of conflict and peace: visioning a utopian world

Uncuff India Episode 9: Civic space and dissent: A pathway to social justice