New York, September 21 — One hundred fifty members of eleven South Asian community groups came together in New York City Sunday morning to participate in the People’s Climate March, the largest such event in history. Participants in the joint South Asians for Climate Justice group came from as far away as California and the UK, carrying signs like “when fossil fuels burn, Kashmir floods” and “we are armed only with peer-reviewed science.” A South Asians for Climate Justice contingent also met at a parallel Sunday afternoon event in the San Francisco Bay Area, in addition to large climate marches and gatherings in in major cities throughout South Asia over the weekend, including New Delhi, Islamabad, Dhaka, Kathmandu, Colombo, and Malé.
The New York event saw three generations of South Asian environmental activists coming together to learn and march. It started with members of the Bangladeshi community sharing their hopes for the talks. According to Sayed Rahman from the Bangladesh Environmental Network, “while world leaders are dithering, climate refugees in Bangladesh are living with the consequences of catastrophic climate change created by major greenhouse gas polluters like the United States and Europe. We call on world leaders, particularly President Obama and the U.S. Congress, to work toward ambitious international emissions reduction targets.”
The large Sikhs for Climate Justice group began the morning with a prayer before the march, linking their environmental activism with their faith. According to Bandana Kaur, environmental researcher and Program Ambassador of EcoSikh, “we march because this understanding of the universe is embedded within the Khalsa ideal for Sikhs—a word that also signifies the sovereign body of Sikhs who make a commitment to protecting the most marginalized among us, a strong call to environmental justice.” Sonny Singh of Red Baraat and a small army of musicians marched with the group, providing an energetic soundtrack to a charged and emotional day.
New York-based organizing groups emphasized the links between local and global. Padma Seemangal of the Indo-Caribbean Alliance said her group was participating because “As a community we have witnessed first-hand the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy both in our neighborhood and across New York City.” Rasel Rahman, a senior community organizer at Chhaya CDC sees deep links between the global climate justice movement and his agency’s housing rights work in New York. “From Hurricane Sandy in New York to mega-floods in Kashmir, climate change robs communities around the world of their support systems. We demand equitable reinvestment in all our communities, and call for UN Climate Summit participants to fully fund the Green Climate Fund.”
“Desis can play a critical role in the American climate movement,” described Barnali Ghosh of the San Francisco Bay Area-based group Brown and Green: South Asian Americans for Climate Justice. “South Asia is climate ground zero, and our actions in the United States can either reduce the risk or further endanger 1.7 billion people. That means every time we take action in the US to vote for climate leaders, shut down another dirty energy facility, divest from mega-polluters, or reinvest in real solutions, we achieve a double victory—not only helping communities in the US, but simultaneously also in our homelands. We call on President Obama to show world leadership in ending public funding of the dirty energy economy.”
Devika Ghai of the Alliance of South Asians Taking Action was one of twenty community members participating in a parallel climate rally taking place in Oakland, California. She worried about her grandmother, whose community had been affected by the 2013 Uttarakhand floods in India. Ghai compared the climate crisis to colonialism, where much of the atmosphere’s ability to absorb carbon has been monopolized by a small group of industrialized nations, while residents of the most vulnerable communities around the world pay the price.
Linked events were held in every South Asian country Saturday and Sunday. “Even though we bear the least responsibility for causing global greenhouse gas emissions, we are being hit the hardest,” writes Nepalese Youth for Climate Action and other organizers of the People’s Climate March Kathmandu. “Climate change is an extreme global injustice as well as a contributor to inequality. Urgent action is needed to reduce emissions and support the poorest to adapt to climate change. The UN climate summit provides a historic opportunity.”
After the New York event, writer and performer Alok Vaid-Menon, known for their work with South Asian spoken word group DARKMATTER, blogged about the day, referencing those most impacted by climate injustice, including “the Global South, indigenous peoples, gender minorities, poor people, small farmers, fisherfolk, and nomadic peoples. We regard climate change not as a phenomenon that is created by ‘humans’ but by the continuation of colonial systems into the atmosphere. The division of ‘humans’ and ‘environment’ is itself a colonial one. ‘Climate change’ is not a failure of Western capitalism, but actually the total success and realization of it. The same poverty-generating systems that built the West are the ones wreaking havoc on the water, air, and land. The ‘solution’ then, is not to get down to 350 parts per million, or to institute a carbon tax, or create more solar panel startups, or fund another wind farm, or screw in better light bulbs. The goal is to continue to fight state violence, colonialism, and capitalism at their roots.”
List of organizations participating in the South Asians for Climate Justice contingent at the People’s Climate March:
For the press: Representatives of each of these groups are available for interview, and additional photos are available. Please call +1 510-859-7531 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.