Ridhima, a ray of hope in the face of climate crisis
Photo: A K Bijuraj
She was only nine when she sued the government for the inaction towards protecting the environment. She expected the government to save the nature and protect the forest, the grasslands and soil around her. She wanted the government to plant more trees and issue guidelines for their protection. But once she knew that things are not falling to place, she didn't wait for someone else to act on her behalf. instead, she herself took to activism. Today, she is an inspiration to many children around the world. Meet the eleven-year-old Ridhima Pandey from Uttarakhand, who is the only child from India to participate in the United Nations Climate Change Summit.
Ridhima is one among the 16 children including Greta Thunberg, who filed a lawsuit against countries Germany, France, Brazil, Argentina and Turkey. The children accused these five countries for causing the most pollution. Ridhima also held the climate strike in Dehradun in September under the FridaysForFuture movement and had expressed concern over the pollution and cleaning of the Ganga. Excerpts from an interview she allowed for mathrubhumi.com.
Experience participating in UN Climate Change Summit
I was really very excited to go there, but in spite of the excitement and fun it was a very knowledgeable kind of trip for me. I came to know about the problems in other parts of the world. I came to know that India is not the only country facing these problems. I also came to know about other children who are fighting for the same cause. Before meeting them, I have always had a feeling that I am alone. I am now happy that I have some like-minded friends. We are in constant touch with each other and share information about our activities. Two of them even visited me last month at my place.
It was Kedarnath floods of 2013 that gave me awareness about the impacts of climate change. When the floods happened, I was only five. But I started asking my parents about the reasons behind it. They gave me explanations about climate change and global change. But then I was too small to act or understand things. But when I grew up, I started reading about it, about the factories that cause emissions, the nations that take a lead in emissions etc. Then I became aware of the rights of children, which specifically mentions the right to minimum standards of food, shelter and clothing, I started thinking that I want to act. I had the feeling that the government has failed to take steps to regulate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are causing extreme climate conditions. This will impact both me and future generations. So I think it is my responsibility to act.
My first action
I wanted to do something. But didn't know what to do. So I asked my father, who sought the help of a lawyer who advised me that I file a petition with National Green Tribunal (NGT). In 2017, I filed a petition with NGT, saying that the government is not doing enough to protect the environment. I wanted the NGT to do something in the form of guidelines to protect the environment.
What happened to the case?
My case has been disposed saying that the demands I raised have been covered in the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
Little things that I do to protect environment
I strictly avoid single use plastics, I avoid junk foods and fast foods because they come packed in a sort of plastic cover and I try my best to save water and electricity. I tear out the blank pages of my old used books and I make rough books out of them. This time I am planning to make such books and present my teachers on Teacher's Day.
Balancing studies with activism
Activism is taking a fair amount of my time. I have to travel for meetings and conferences and so I miss my class. But my teachers and friends help me and they ensure I keep updated in my curriculum. Whatever time I get to study, I do it seriously. I thoroughly understand the need for taking studies seriously, because I think that only education brings awareness. I would like to study more on the environment and take it as my subject for higher studies too.
Activities in the native village
We have a group of people, not a group of only children, adults of all age who are really into protecting the environment. We are planning to organise an event in Haridwar. Hope that will take place soon.
I like to take care of stray dogs. I play with them, feed them and look after them. There are some seven to eight stray dogs. Though I like to treat them as pet dogs, they want to roam freely. So it's like they come, I feed them and they go. They even accompany me to my tuition classes.
Response from friends
All of my friends are not into this. Only my best friends support me. My best friend is Pallavi Raghi and she supports me and joins me in my protests. I am sad that others are not interested in this.
More than good comments I receive bad comments and discouragement. In my talks I blame the government for not taking strict measures. So people always ask me why I am going behind criticising the government. When I speak that development should not come at the cost of harming children, they distort this and project me as a person who is against development. Actually I am not aginst development. My emphasis is on sustainable development, development without harming the nature. Some call me Hitler, some say I am a terrorist! But I have never been discouraged, never lost hope. I am pretty sure that those who criticize me today, will one day realize that my fight is for them too.
My parents are my major strength. My father Dinesh Pandey is a conservationist with Wildlife Trust of India. My mother Vinita is a beat officer in Uttarakhand Forest Department. They both support me.