Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Interview: Environmental Activist and Student Kabir Arora

Most people who have closely followed environmental politics in Delhi recently have heard of Kabir Arora.  Kabir is a student leader and an active member of several groups, including the Indian Youth Climate Network (IYCN) and the National Alliance of Anti-Nuclear Movement (NAAM).  Today he gives his opinion of Copenhagen ("The most expensive and highly polluting tea party in the earth's history"), and explains why environmentalism "isn't just about plants and animals." He's also got a few words for the PM.

Tell us a little about yourself--the kind of work you do and what brought you to the movement. 
I'm doing my Graduation in Geography from Jamia Millia Islamia.  I'm in my final year now. I was associated with Pahal (for past five years); the search took me to Rural Litigation Entitlement Kendra (in Dehradoon-for a month) and Sadhana Forest (Auroville, Tamil Nadu-for a month). 

The Center for Science and Environment is a milestone in my life.  I have done two months summer certificate course (Agenda for Survival-08) from there. The course actually opened my eyes. The literature penned down by Late Mr. Anil Aggarwal mentored me and prepared my ideology for the way forward. At present, I'm volunteering with Indian Youth Climate Network (IYCN). I recently got a Gandhi Fellowship-which is about working in the field of education, understanding the system by becoming a part of it. It is even more about transforming oneself to be a part of Indian tradition of humility.

It's clear from your activism and writing that you aren't a single-issue environmentalist. Can you say a little about the connections you see between the work you do as an environmentalist and your pro- justice, anti-nuclear stands?

I'm not sure whether I'm working as environmentalist/activist or not. But yes I'm a student and will try to answer it with the same spirit. Environmentalism especially in India doesn't mean to limit oneself to just conserving plants and animals. It is about understanding the relationship of man with nature, man with the society and a new addition--technology. So human rights which also includes gender issues, caste-class-communal violence, wars etc. opposition to them and justifiable use of technology becomes an essential part of environmentally sound society. That's where the pro-justice and anti-nuclear stands come from (even I'm a part of group of people who are opposing Genetically Modified Crops, doing whatever I can do on my part to oppose it).  We need a peaceful, environmentally sound, sustainable nation and world. For that, in the words of Arundhati Roy, "A sex workers and Anti Nuclear Activists have to walk together". The need of the hour is to fight with the consumerist model of development which is behind all the blunders in the present day world.

IYCN and other environmentalists put a lot of energy into the lead up to Copenhagen. How did you feel about the outcome of those negotiations? Anything you found particularly disappointing? Any surprising bright spots?

Civil Society organizations across the globe came together for a fair deal in Copenhagen (whether many of them have their own vested interest) which is a big thing, a surprising bright spot. This momentum built at that time can take us forward to a participatory and decentralized model of democracy which is missing in the present undemocratic western notion of democracy--a ray of hope! Many of the prominent environmentalists already had made it clear (Before COP 15) that nothing will happen in Copenhagen, so I didn't have any expectations from it on my part. (In IYCN we still awaited for a miracle to happen in COP which didn't). About the outcome of negotiations, we all are unhappy in the network. We haven't worked out our official stand on it, but my personal opinion about it will be that it was the most expensive and highly polluting tea party in the earth's history in the name of saving Climate.
The debate is not about saving earth or climate, it is for saving human species which we need to consider. It is an emergency like situation where all of us need to work out for structural change instead of doing publicity oriented campaigns (it is also a lesson for us in IYCN too). Most importantly this change will not come from Copenhagen, Kyoto or Mexico further. The citizens of the world have to work out something to get it done.

What issues do you see as the priorities for environmentalists in India in the coming year?
We need to make our hands strong to fight the consumerist (capitalist/imperialist whatever you name it) model of development. The lesson which both Mahatama Gandhi and Bhagat Singh taught us need to be brought in action. It is a high time for us to listen to the founders of the spirit of India. Environmentalists have to mingle in the masses. Right time to come out of Air Conditioned offices and smell the soil of the country.

Climate Emergency which is an umbrella issue can be an opportunity for us to get the change and get out of this design crisis. To mitigate and adapt the climate change we need to have participation of common people. This our leaders and corporations have to understand. For that more Satyagrahas are waiting ahead. (If we have to do Satyagraha in free India that means it is not at all free).

If you had a private meeting with Manmohan Singh and Jairam Ramesh, what would you say to them?
Dr. Manmohan Singh Ji and company (including other political personalities) you have done enough service of nation. It will be good if you get some rest and do the devolution of power, open the way for bottom to top approach. Otherwise... 
"Kikra Ve Kandiyalia Ve Hun ei Chadeya Pooh
Haqq Jinna de Aapne Oh Aape Lenge Khoh"
--Amrita Pritam. 
(Whatever common masses deserve they will snatch it).

What is one thing environmentalists in the rest of the world can learn from India?
In the beginning I've mentioned that environmentalism for us is more than conserving species. For us it is a livelihood issue to secure our present. In order to get it, different societies in this country adopted different measures. From saving water in Rajasthan to Chipko in Uttarakhand. In plains, people practiced sustainable agriculture which in my home state is named as Nanak Kheti (Baba Nanak was a farmer) by Kheti Virassat Mission, even hunting or fishing never exceeded a limit in the tribal areas. They have their own norms to maintain the balance. All of us even in India (especially for the people like me who just talk :P) need to learn-- rest of the world will follow us if we start acknowledging, appreciating and practicing the wisdom we have around us.


  1. Hey, that was a remarkable interview by Kabir (I've been in touch with IYCN folks I'm sure I've met but can't make out from the photo).
    I really liked the range of issues and their interconnectedness that you brought out, Kabir. And also man/ human relationships with society/each other and wth nature.
    I too was not expecting anything from Copenhagen though also hoping against hope. I think Copenhagen failed because it - and all the 14 COPs before it - did not tackle three key issues that are at the core of global warming, which are capitalism, class and equity.
    Do send/ email me your email/ phone and we can get in touch, that would be nice. Mine is nagraj.adve@gmail.com and 9910476553.

  2. @Kabir--thanks again for the interview.
    @Naga--I agree on all counts!

  3. Good one Kabir :)

  4. Hey KAbir

    Good Job :)

    Roselin Dey
    350.org, IYCN

  5. @Suren and Roselin--Glad you to have you here. Come back again soon. Will have another guest post soon!

  6. I like the climate satyagraha idea Kabir !

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  8. Kabir Arora is an inspiring Environmental Activist and Student who has been working tirelessly to bring awareness to environmental issues. He is an example of a person using his knowledge and passion to make a difference. His dedication to creating a better world is a true inspiration. With his help, many students have benefited from his maths coursework help to get better grades and understand the subject. His drive to make positive changes is truly admirable.


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