How the ‘Fridays For Future’ India Chapter is Continuing in a Pandemic

Last Friday, a young student from Mumbai stuck home-made posters on climate change outside his balcony and windows. As a volunteer with Fridays for Future (FFF), the idea behind putting up the poster, he says, was to inculcate curiosity in others.

“Since we couldn’t go out this time, I wanted friends in my apartment and the other residents to read my poster and ask me questions about climate change,” he said.

Just like him, on September 25, many young volunteers across the globe came together to participate in ‘Global Climate Strike’ – the first global climate action day of 2020, which the volunteers have been calling “the year of awakening”.

Climate strike in Mysore, Karnataka. Photp: special arrangement.

This year, they say, has witnessed a slew of natural and man-made disasters like floods, landslides, earthquake and gas leakages – besides a global pandemic.

“Hence, it becomes more than necessary to talk about climate change at this time and demand action from our policymakers,” said an FFF volunteer during an online press conference conducted on the same day.

The volunteers have demanded a national action plan that inculcates social justice, sets science-based targets, focuses on green recovery, promotes adaptive governance and is diligently implemented with transparency and periodic status updates.

This year, the volunteers have also pledged to amplify the voices of the Adivasis, stand in support with the farmers who are protesting the farmer bills and other marginalised groups at the forefront of climate crisis.

Dealing with a pandemic

While a few volunteers took to the streets to make their voices heard, many volunteers innovated other means to continue the fight while staying at home. In Delhi, volunteers gathered outside the office of the Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) to demand a national climate action plan and others did an email storm from 2 pm to 4 pm, wherein they sent messages to the ministry from their individual accounts.

Volunteers outside the office of MOEFCC, in solidarity with MAPA (Most affected people and areas).

Similarly, in Patna, volunteers left their old slippers at the usual protest site to mark their presence while staying at home.

In Jharkhand, volunteers from the Adivasi community installed dustbins outside their houses and those who had access to internet, shared their pictures on their social media platforms.

Shoe strike in Patna. Photo: special arrangement.

Climate justice and intersectionality

“We don’t aim at appropriating their [Adivasi community] voices, but to simply use our privilege to amplify them,” said Tamanna Sengupta, a student at York University. “We have always worked with the representatives of the community without interfering with their work.”

Climate change, volunteers say, doesn’t affect us all equally and it is always those on the margins who suffer the most. Hence, they are focusing on the intersectional aspect of the fight against climate change.

“We know how gender, caste and race determine the scale of a disaster’s impact. Since caste-based discrimination is unfortunately a prevalent practice in the country, we are trying to have more and more conversations around caste and climate justice,” added Sengupta.

The motive, volunteers say, is to make the fight as inclusive as possible.

Hence, a few volunteers from Bangalore also joined the farmer’s protest to extend their support. As a gesture of solidarity, they organised strikes in local metro trains while maintaining physical distancing.

Chalk art by FFF Guwahati. Photo: special arrangement.

For those who don’t have access to the internet, the volunteers make regular phone calls and connect with local FFF chapters. “As students, we can’t do much, but we are doing every possible thing to keep up the spirits and not let the fight fizzle out during the pandemic,” said Vaishnavi Kanthamneni, a law student from Bangalore.

Participating in FFF events, volunteers say, has not only taught them all kinds of organisational skills but has also made them believe that they have the ability to bring change in both big and small ways.

“Even if we manage to reach out to two-three people, we consider our job done,” says Kanthamneni. “We participated in the Arrey protest and has also been actively opposing the EIA draft in whatever ways we can.”

Tarun Mediratta, a hospitality student from Mumbai, has been associated with FFF in March 2019 and says that he has seen a lot of change in terms of awareness.

FFF Andhra Pradesh. Photo: special arrangement.

“I have noticed that a lot of more people have started showing an interest in joining us. From a small group of three-four people, we are now a team of more than 400 volunteers in Mumbai. Bollywood celebrities like Dia Mirza, Shraddha Kapoor and others have also extended their support,” he said.

“We don’t want the government to do us a favour, we are just asking for the right to our lives because it’s our future which is at stake, not theirs’.”

As for what the near future holds, the volunteers intend to expand their national action plan to different states as well while continuing their efforts to the make the movement as inclusive as possible.