Read our Print Editor’s take on entitled social media activism and its removed and elitist enforcement on ground.
A few weeks ago, the Global Climate Change Strike struck its momentum on the streets of Delhi, and organisations like Fridays for Future started marching to mobilise the population against the silence of Government authorities and policy-makers on environmental degradation plaguing our planet. Social media flooded with posters and invitations to partake in the various marches – at Lodhi Gardens, Faculty of Arts, Jantar Mantar, and any place in Delhi which could make the authorities in power take notice, and twist a little in their comfortable seats (on airplanes for some of them).
What appeared to be an excellent initiative and the righteous action in theory, however, raised unsettling questions when seen with a critical lens on ground. A security guard walked up to us during the march at Jantar Mantar, and he asked one of the protesters with sincerity, “Yeh morcha kisliye kar rahe ho aap logg? (What are you guys marching for?)” The person whom he addressed had been sloganeering a few moments ago, but fumbled to express the basic agenda of the protest. This is not to highlight that she herself was ignorant – which, in our millennial thirst for “wokeness”, may verily be an absurd possibility – but to showcase that she did not know the right words in the tongue of the guard (Hindi) to explain the enormity of the issue.
The slogans, cries, and popular references employed in these strikes are, if not monopolised by the English language, subservient to a mainstream understanding which is accessible to a rare few. The “rare few” does not refer to the number – these marches had plenty of people supporting what is a pressing cause – but the strata of the diverse Indian society this form of a movement caters to is, consciously or unconsciously, significantly English-speaking, upper/ middle class. In today’s time, social media has become the norm of propaganda and publicity, but there is an inevitable class and culture divide which makes it impossible for many to become aware, let alone partake, in the cause of the environmental movement.
There are many like the security guard in our country who do not have access to the Instagram stories of the English-speaking, highly privileged influencers, or even concerned educated youth, but that lack of access does not essentially translate to a lack of concern. The movement in India appears to take this language and culture divide for granted. When aspiring for the quintessential western values and standards of awareness, we often laugh at the typical Indian behaviour by equating it with callousness. Knowing at least a minimal level of the English language has become a prerequisite for being included within the ambit of environmental activism in India. The mainstream media and television channels’ non-existent contribution to a movement that is becoming the most threatening matter of survival to our generation, is questionable. While Indian politicians make statements in absolute disregard of science, facts, and anything logically acceptable to an informed brain, it is an unfortunate reality that informs the realms of knowledge for most Indians.
Mainstream media broadcasts the Prime Minister stating, “Climate has not changed. Our habits have changed,” or education ministers claiming that cows exhale oxygen. Media is no longer a vehicle for bringing in expert panels that dissect the threat of global warming and climate change. While Greta Thunberg is an inspiring figure for the movement, a Western icon cannot define the entirety of our understanding of the movement’s complex practicality in India. This becomes a tool for exclusionary caste politics of the movement, since Adivasis and other marginalised tribal communities have been on the streets, fighting for the cause before it became popular on social media. The movement for environmental conservation is not an individualistic fight, and it cannot be a successful one if we delude ourselves in believing so. As youth, these strikes and marches showcase the strength of collectivism and have the power to bring significant policy changes. However, all movements are rooted in the context of their times, or else they lose any real power of change. It is imperative for us, to keep our jargon aside, keep the banners down, and explain our cause to those who will then join their force with ours.