Video | Environmentalism of the poor: “Ecological issues are not a matter of luxury, but a matter of survival” – Centre for Science and Environment – Delhi

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Environmentalism of the poor

By Sunita Narain

For many disadvantaged communities in developing countries, ecological issues are not a matter of luxury, but a matter of survival. In India, protests and social movements are expressing these worries.

All over India today, protests are staged against infrastructure projects and what is generally considered “development”. […]

It would be a bit far fetched to call the Naxalite insurgency in central Indian forest regions an environmental conflict. But it does have a strong environmental dimension since the Maoist militias mostly rely on taking advantage of rural people and forest dwellers whose traditional livelihoods are under threat by what state governments and the national government plan and allow in the name of development: mining and other changes of land use.

Today, protests are happening in many places. In fact, it would be correct to say that practically all infrastructure projects and new industrial schemes are under attack from communities who fear loss of livelihoods. These communities are at the forefront of India’s environmental movement. They are its most determined activists. […]

The truth is that development projects are using local resources – minerals, water, land. But they do not provide employment to compensate for the losses suffered by the people displaced. Misconceived “progress” is destroying more livelihoods than it creates. Therefore, India is resonating with cries of people who are fighting development itself.

Where do we go from here? I believe we must listen to the protesting voices, not dismiss or stifle them in the name of anti-growth dissent or Naxalism. This can be done by strengthening the processes of democracy that ensure people have a say in development.

For instance, the Forest Rights Act demands that the village assemblies in tribal areas must give their written consent to a project before it is cleared. Public hearings held during the environmental impact assessment are meant to provide the platform for people to voice their concerns. In most cases, however, the authorities rig and undermine these processes. Public hearings and even video recordings of the events are faked. In most cases one will find that the concerns people raise are brushed aside as projects are rammed through in the name of industrial development. This must stop. […]

It is evident that the need for new and vital industrial and infrastructure projects will have to be balanced with the growing dissent against it. I believe we will learn that we cannot build against the will of our people.

In the rich nations, some – not all – people practice a different environmental ethic. They find solutions within the current economic growth model – buy organic food and fair-trade clothes, drive hybrid cars and install solar panels on their roofs. The Indian middle-class is following this model. No doubt, all mean well. But what they are doing is but a drop in the ocean.

The challenges humankind faces are much more daunting than just choosing less destructive modes of consumption. In fact, the environmental movements of the poor teach us that techno-fix solutions, of cleaning up pollution even as we continue to emit more, are not good enough.

The rich world has failed to reduce its greenhouse emissions in spite of all its investments in efficiency. Yes, cars have become more fuel efficient, but people just drive longer and have more cars. Emissions continue to grow. […]

For practical purposes, the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol remain worthless, and the impact of climate change is most painful for the poor in developing nations.

It is obvious that our planet cannot sustain the current energy-intensive growth models. Earth’s resources are limited, and the risks that go along with energy production are enormous. […]

In India, it will be the sweetest fruit of democracy if it can provide us the opportunity to reinvent the way we develop. The fact is that growth, from now on, requires doing much more with much less. Frugality and innovation will have to be our way to growth. Our challenge is to provide the gains of development to vast numbers of people. This requires inventing growth that is both affordable and sustainable.

The only driver for change is democracy and more democracy. It is only when the most powerful nations in the world will accept the limits on their growth that the world will choose that new pathway to progress. It can be done. It must be done.

The question is if the vast numbers of urban and middle-class people in India and the world will learn this lesson quickly. We cannot afford this environmentalism of costly solutions that wants to put band-aids on what is so badly broken. We must understand that our future lies in being part of the environmentalism of the poor, as this movement will force us to seek new answers to old problems.

Sunita Narain is the director general of the Centre for Science and Environment, a non-governmental body based in Delhi. She is also the editor of the Centre’s fortnightly magazine Down to Earth.

»» Centre for Science and Environment

Source: “Environmentalism of the poor”, Development and Cooperation, D+C 2011/09, 1 August 2011
Address :
Date Visited: 22 January 2022

How much does biodiversity matter to climate change? The ecosystems of the land and ocean absorb around half our our planet warming emissions. But these are being destroyed by human activity. At the same time, climate change is a primary driver of the destruction of these habitats and biodiversity loss. If biodiversity is our strongest natural defence against climate change (as it’s been described), what’s stopping us from doing more to protect it? | For up-to-date reports listen to The Climate Question (BBC) | United Nations on climate change >>

There is a silent transformation happening across the country. Slow and steady changes which are spreading across cities, towns and municipalities. […] These cities are a learning laboratory and their success story needs to be heard, witnessed and showcased to reach the people. This docu-series showcases 9 cities with 9 separate themes. These models need to be replicated to help other cities give a new direction to their waste management future.

Cleanest Cities of India | Trailer | How cities resolved their garbage problem?
Down To Earth

“The tribal households traditionally had a backyard garden that had multiple, multilayered and multipurpose indigenous trees, plants, herbs, and shrubs. […] The produce from this small garden was sufficient to meet the dietary and nutrition needs of a family for an entire year.” – Learn more about food crops that are resistant to pests, grow on poor soils, flourish under changed climatic conditions and offer high nutritive value | Food distribution >>

The tribal food basket has always been ­diverse and nutritious, including maize, minor millets like kodo and kutki, oil seeds like ramtila, along with fruits, leaves, ­rhizomes, mushrooms, meat and fish. […] We have pushed them out of their complementary relationship with ecology, way of life and time-tested nutrition >>

Every Adivasi society was/is governed by its own social organization and institutions. These institutions, linked to biological resource management, were governed by religious myth and socio-cultural belief system (Ramakrishnan 2001:114). Sometimes, it is assumed that during early ages the forest and the landscape were untouched and unmanipulated, and so the forests remained pristine. The Adivasi life, at that time, was intermingled with the Nature (Roy 1912:58).5 This stereotype is however contested by recent scholarship (Damodaran: 2006: 53).6 Challenging ecological romanticism, Shepard Krech comments ‘Many native peoples themselves draw on a tradition of texts promulgating noble imagery that has generally had deeper roots in European self- criticism than in indigenous realities’ (Krech 2000: 216) . However, the truth is even more complicated than it appears. The Adivasis of Manbhum settled villages in the forests after clearing a forest patch adjacent to nearby water resource. Sometimes, they created some artificial water resource also within their village landscape (Roy 1915: 131; Bodding 1984:100-101).7 Thus, they did change and manipulate their surrounding landscape. However, because of low population pressure and less per capita consumption, they did not generally cause large-scale ecological damage. The rate at which they exploited their surrounding resource at local scale, could keep pace with the regeneration and restoration rate of natural and ecological process.

Source: “Adivasi (Indigenous people) Perception of Landscape: The Case of Manbhum” by Nirmal Mahato (University of Gour Banga), Journal of Adivasi and Indigenous Studies (JAIS), Vol. II, No.1, February 2015, pp. 52-53
Date Visited: 22 January 2022

“Once, I was walking with this young tribal girl through the forest and we stumbled upon a tuber. She plucked it, cut the eye of the tuber and buried it in the mud before taking it to be cooked. I asked her why she did so and she replied ‘If I don’t put it back, how will it grow again?’ and that moment made me realise how sensitive tribals are towards environment and nature. For them, putting back what they take is inherent in their culture and lifestyle.” – Mari Marcel Thekaekara (writer and Co-Founder of ACCORD-Nilgiris) | Learn more >>

“Jungle is a living entity and it also communicates, provided we have the ability to listen to it. […] The three essential components—forests, tribal forest dwellers and life forms living in forests—complement one another and are not rivals.” – Former environment minister A.M. Dave >>

“The natural wealth with which much of tribal India is endowed is also its bane. […] The Adivasi is wedged between the state programme for development, meaning mines, dams, steel plants and roads, and a private agenda for quick money, which is currently termed ‘real estate’.” – Madhu Ramnath, Preface for Woodsmoke and Leafcups >>

See also

Adverse inclusion | Casteism | Rural poverty


Crafts and visual arts

Demographic Status of Scheduled Tribe Population of India (Census figures 2011)

Denotified Tribes, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Tribes – Report and Recommendations (Technical Advisory Group)

Fact checking | Figures, census and other statistics

Human Rights Commission (posts) | (Government of India)

Imprisonment & rehabilitation

Search tips | Names of tribal communities, regions and states of India

State wise population of Scheduled Tribes (ST) and their percentage to the total population in the respective states and to the total STs population

“What are the Rights of Scheduled Tribes? – Government of India (National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, NCST)

“What is the Forest Rights Act about?” – Campaign for Survival and Dignity

“Who are Scheduled Tribes?” – Government of India (National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, NCST)


The roots of contemporary globalization lie deeply embedded in the rise of industrialization, particularly in the United Kingdom and the subsequent world-wide spread of the British economic model through colonization. Commercial links were forged between the colonized and the colonizing power. The former were distinct territorial entities whose sovereignty had been abolished by the so-called right of conquest.This occurred in the context of the voyages of ‘discovery’. When sovereignty was regained either through decolonization or war of independence economic links survived. At that time, the bond between territoriality and sovereignty was strong in such a way that the respective sovereigns could credibly exercise sovereignty over economic activity within their territory. They were thus in a position to regulate economic activity within in a manner that impinged upon their external economic relations with other sovereign states. In this way the cohesion between sovereignty and the nation-state assured the sovereign the position of a major player in the sphere of international economic relations. There was, however, a price to be paid for this, namely, democratic accountability and responsiveness to the exigencies of social justice.

This situation changed when money (currency) acquired the ability to move on a 24-hour basis at the speed of light in relation to all other economic commodities. This was facilitated by the electronic revolution in particular. This new form of colonialism, supported by the unrelenting search for cheap labour, ushered in both the dislocation and the fragmentation of the productive activity from one centre to multiple peripheries. Network became the new operative and regulative concept guiding the production of goods. […]

Even human labour, available from the labour market, will fetch a price only if it is deemed profitable. In the final analysis, the marketability of everything means the commoditization of everything for the sake of maximum profit. If souls exist at all, even they are marketable because they can be exchanged for money and over-abundant luxury. Thus, all forms of corruption are consistent and compatible with the logic of unrestricted financial power. […]

“The issue is not whether the world’s economy is governable toward ambitious goals like promoting social justice, equality between countries and greater democratic control for the bulk of the world’s people, but whether it is governable at all.” [Hirst, P. and Thompson, G in Globalization in question]

Source: “Globalization and ubuntu” by Mogobe B. Ramose, The African Philosophy Reader, pp. 732-6 p. 750
Date visited: 8 September 2021

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

Find up-to-date information provided by, for and about Indian authors, researchers, officials, and educators

List of web portals covered by the present Custom search engine

Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) –

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To search Indian periodicals, magazines, web portals and other sources safely, click here. To find publishing details for Shodhganga’s PhD search results, click here >>

Search tips

Combine the name of any particular state, language or region with that of any tribal (Adivasi) community.

Add keywords of special interest (music, poetry, dance just as health, sacred grove and biodiversity); learn about the rights of Scheduled Tribes such as the “Forest Rights Act” (FRA); and the United Nations “Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”, “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, “women’s rights”, or “children’s right to education”.

Specify any other issue or news item you want to learn more about (biodiversity, bonded labour and human trafficking, climate change, ecology, economic development, ethnobotany, ethnomedicine, global warming, hunter-gatherers in a particular region or state, prevention of rural poverty, water access).

For official figures include “scheduled tribe ST” along with a union state or region: e.g. “Chhattisgarh ST community”, “Himalayan tribe”, “Scheduled tribe Tamil Nadu census”, “ST Kerala census”, “Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group Jharkhand”, “PVTG Rajasthan”, “Adivasi ST Kerala”, “Adibasi ST West Bengal” etc.

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Note: hyperlinks and quotes are meant for fact-checking and information purposes only | Disclaimer >>

[*] Some clarifications on caste-related issues by reputed scholars

Understanding “caste” in the context of Indian democracy: The “Poona Pact of 1932”
“Mahatma Gandhi and BR Ambedkar differed over how to address caste inequities through the electoral system. Their exchanges led to the Poona Pact of 1932, which shaped the reservation system in India’s electoral politics. […]
Two prominent figures who have significantly contributed to this discourse are Mahatma Gandhi, Father of the Nation, and Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, Father of the Constitution. The two stalwarts of Indian politics, while revered equally by the public, had contrasting views on the caste system. Their subsequent debates have shaped the course of Indian society and politics. While Gandhi denounced untouchability, he did not condemn the varna system, a social hierarchy based on occupation, for most of his life. He believed in reforming the caste system through the abolition of untouchability and by giving equal status to each occupation. On the other hand, BR Ambedkar, a Dalit himself, argued that the caste system disorganised and ‘demoralised Hindu society, reducing it to a collection of castes’. […] 
And yet, despite their differences, they developed an understanding to work for the betterment of the marginalised.” – Rishabh Sharma in “How Ambedkar and Gandhi’s contrasting views paved way for caste reservation” (India Today, 6 October 2023)

~ ~ ~

“That upper caste groups should declare themselves to be OBCs [Other Backward Castes] and want to avail of the reservation policy is a pandering to caste politics of course, as also are caste vote-banks. It is partially a reflection of the insecurity that the neo-liberal market economy has created among the middle-class. Opportunities are limited, jobs are scarce and so far ‘development’ remains a slogan. There’s a lot that is being done to keep caste going in spite of saying that we are trying to erode caste. We are, of course, dodging the real issue. It’s true that there has been a great deal of exploitation of Dalit groups and OBC’s in past history; making amends or even just claiming that we are a democracy based on social justice demands far more than just reservations. The solution lies in changing the quality of life of half the Indian population by giving them their right to food, water, education, health care, employment, and social justice. This, no government so far has been willing to do, because it means a radical change in governance and its priorities.” – Romila Thapar  (Emeritus Professor of History, Jawaharlal Nehru University) interviewed by Nikhil Pandhi (Caravan Magazine, 7 October 2015)

~ ~ ~

Casteism is the investment in keeping the hierarchy as it is in order to maintain your own ranking, advantage, privilege, or to elevate yourself above others or keep others beneath you …. For this reason, many people—including those we might see as good and kind people—could be casteist, meaning invested in keeping the hierarchy as it is or content to do nothing to change it, but not racist in the classical sense, not active and openly hateful of this or that group.” – Book review by Dilip Mandal for Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (The Print, 23 August 2020)

~ ~ ~

“The theoretical debate on caste among social scientists has receded into the background in recent years. [However] caste is in no sense disappearing: indeed, the present wave of neo-liberal policies in India, with privatisation of enterprises and education, has strengthened the importance of caste ties, as selection to posts and educational institutions is less based on merit through examinations, and increasingly on social contact as also on corruption. There is a tendency to assume that caste is as old as Indian civilization itself, but this assumption does not fit our historical knowledge. To be precise, however, we must distinguish between social stratification in general and caste as a specific form. […]
From the early modern period till today, then, caste has been an intrinsic feature of Indian society. It has been common to refer to this as the ‘caste system’. But it is debatable whether the term ‘system’ is appropriate here, unless we simply take for granted that any society is a ‘social system’. First, and this is quite clear when we look at the history of distinct castes, the ‘system’ and the place various groups occupy within it have been constantly changing. Second, no hierarchical order of castes has ever been universally accepted […] but what is certain is that there is no consensus on a single hierarchical order.” – Harald Tambs-Lyche (Professor Emeritus, Université de Picardie, Amiens) in “Caste: History and the Present” (Academia Letters, Article 1311, 2021), pp. 1-2

~ ~ ~

“There is a need for intercultural education. We all need to work together to bridge these divides not only between religions and castes but also regions. It is not correct to think that one part is better than the other. Some of the limitations of India as a whole are due to our common heritage, say the one that has restricted women from having a flourishing life for themselves.” – Prof. V. Santhakumar (Azim Premji University) in “On the so called North-South Divide in India” (personal blog post in Economics in Action, 13 April 2024)

For additional learning resources visit the website of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), “a public interest research and advocacy organisation based in New Delhi”:

Communication for Awareness
CSE’s publications and informational products have been its strength and they have always combined research and readability to get the message across.

CSE’s tools for awareness raising are periodicals, publications, films/short spots, briefing papers, exhibitions, posters and other products. CSE’s informational products reach people in more diverse ways such as features service, website and e-news bulletins. […]

Source: About CSE
Date Visited: 10 July 2022

Watch “The Good Ancestor – The Legacies We Leave” (3 min.): An animation that explores the legacies we might leave for future generations >>

Links to some of the most important organisations, thinkers and doers that are leading the way and that have inspired the book The Good Ancestor by Roman Krznaric >>