India People’s Tribunal – an important step for those at the sharp end of the changing climate

Last time I wrote was just before the India National People’s Tribunal on Climate change. After months of planning, it’s hard to believe that it took place over 10 days ago. Here’s how it went:

The morning of the Indian National Peoples Tribunal on Climate Crisis. At 08.30 the Indian Islamic Cultural Centre in the heart of New Delhi was quiet and calm. A lone figure mopped the floors near the auditorium. But apart from that, nothing moved.

By 09.15 the situation had changed completely. The auditorium was a hive of activity. At 10am the tribunal began. What followed was an important six hours for those at the sharp end of the changing climate across India. The panel was made up of retired judges and other senior figures. They listened closely to testimonies about how the changing environment is threatening the lives and futures of communities across India, and from expert witnesses about the facts behind that environmental change.

The modern story of India is one of development and innovation. Of a country rapidly shedding the tag of ‘developing’ and replacing it with terms such as ‘emerging power’. In this context, it is shocking to understand that a way of life that is the foundation stone of India – small-scale agriculture – is quickly dying out. And the survivors, previously prosperous farmers, are being cut adrift and now need to travel towards cities and find whatever work they can, often as labourers on building sites. What other choice do they have when, instead of a four-month rainy season, they’ve had as little as 2 days of rain?

Kotha Bai of Purampur in Rajasthan told just such a story at the tribunal. She and her husband, along with their children and grandchildren now need to migrate for about 5 months of each year in order to find work. Often families are forced to sleep rough near the work site, by the side of the road or under bridges due to lack of funds to pay for accommodation. Older children look after smaller children and help out where they can. They don’t go to school. It is a heartbreaking reality for a woman who worked hard to ensure that her children had the education that she didn’t have access to – that within one generation that education is once again out of reach. Education is just one of the many things that are sacrificed by the realities of climate change.

Ajay Jha, Director of the organisation Pairvi, believes that the climate tribunal will help build understanding among state and central government in India about the implications and impacts of climate change, and provide evidence for future legal action on climate change in India and beyond. I hope he’s right and that this event is the start of a dialogue that will help deliver justice and support for people such as Kotha Bai and her family.

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