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Why this 8 year old rejects Modi's #SheInspiresUs

March 07, 2020 17:22 IST
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'Please don't celebrate me if you are not going to listen to my voice.'

IMAGE: Licypriya Kangujam protests in the rain outside Parliament, pleading with Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi to pass a climate change law. Photograph: Licypriya Kangujam

'Do you know someone like her? Tell us, using #SheInspiresUs,' the MyGovIndia tweet said.

'Please don't celebrate me if you are not going to listen to my voice,' tweeted eight-year-old Licypriya Kangujam from Manipur in response to the MyGovIndia tweet that praised her environmental activism.

A homeless child, climate change activist and World Children Peace Prize Laureate 2019, A P J Abdul Kalam Children Award and Indian Peace Prize awardee, Licypriya lists her concerns that have been ignored by the Modi government in an e-mail interview with Prasanna D Zore/

Why have you refused to be part of the PM's #SheInspiresUs campaign?

First when I heard the news, I couldn't believe it. After confirming the news, I felt proud in one sense, but I also felt very sad.

This made me ask myself hundreds of questions whether I should accept such recognition or honour rather than keep pushing my demands to the government.

IMAGE: Licypriya argues with the Delhi police for stopping the climate change protest outside Parliament. Photograph: Licypriya Kangujam

After thinking many times, I decided to turn down the honour because over the years they haven't listened to any of my demands despite protesting continuously in front of Parliament and many other places across the country with thousands of children and youth.

Our politicians don't take this issue seriously. Not a single politician called upon me or invited me to discuss my concerns.

I believe my rejection will draw the attention of the government to fulfil my demands. Because our leaders and politicians never take climate change seriously. This is the saddest part.

On June 25, 2019, they discussed the issue only once in the Rajya Sabha after my protest on June 21 in front of Parliament. Seven MPs brought the issue of climate change as a calling attention motion, but the environment minister replied, 'India will not bow down to international pressure on climate change', which is a completely senseless response.

That was the first time a discussion on climate change was initiated in Parliament.

I have no objection or reservations to the prime minister's #SheInspiresUs initiative. My only condition is please listen to my voice first before celebrating me.

What went in your mind before you made the decision to refuse the honour?

I felt no regret to refuse such big honour of my life. I feel many opportunities will come in future if I deserve them.

What are your views about the #SheInspiresUs campaign?

I don't want to comment on this initiative by the Honourable PM of India Shri Narendra Modiji. It may be a good initiative, but considering the present situation of problems like crimes against women and children and their safety, I don't think this initiative can solve anything.

This will be like putting fairness cream over our face, but it will be the usual face after a wash out.

Instead, I want him to listen to my voice and take climate change seriously.

You are a climate change activist. In this context how do you look at this government's policies to fight climate change?
Is this government, or even the previous government, serious about fighting global warming?

Our government, politicians and leaders don't consider climate change a serious issue.

I have three major demands to safeguard the future of India's children:

Firstly, I want our government to enact a climate law so that we can regulate carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases. This will bring transparency and accountability to our leaders. This will benefit millions of India's poor people.

Secondly, inclusion of climate change as a compulsory subject in our school education curriculum. This will help to fight climate change from the grassroots and also it will help educate our leaders about climate change by their own children and grandchildren as they don't seem to believe in science and that climate change is for real.

Thirdly, every student in India must plant a minimum of 10 trees every year to pass in their final exam. In India, we have 350 million students. If 350 million students plant minimum 10 trees every year then we will plant 3.5 billion trees a year.

Trust me, India will be green in 5 years!

All the above three policies are possible to implement and other countries of the world can follow India. This can help fight climate change.

IMAGE: Licypriya with landslide victims of Odisha's Gajapati district in the rain outside Parliament. Photograph: Licypriya Kangujam

How prepared is India to face global warming and the destruction it will wreak in our country?

Still, India doesn't have early warning system for landslides. But for other disasters, the government has taken some measures. We need to focus more on the technology which can tackle landslides to save human lives and properties.

India ranks as the fifth-most vulnerable country in terms of extreme weather events.

Studies show that the current level of efforts to slow down global warming will see average temperatures in India rise by 1-2°C by 2050.

Climate change will have deep economic and social impact.

The precarious balancing act of realising sustained economic growth essential to improving the living standards of all its people without endangering the well-being of the planet even as it is constrained by a rapidly warming world requires bold leadership and massive investments.

To this end, the government should signal its intent to transform India into a sustainable, low-carbon, high-growth economy.

Why have you requested the media to stop calling you 'Greta Thunberg of India's?

Yes, I found some national and international media referring to me based on my work as 'Greta of India'.

Actually, I already began a movement to fight climate change even before Greta started in August 2018. We are good friends. We equally respect each other. The media seems to like to differentiate between us. But I want to ask on what ground or capacity? She is also a climate activist. I'm also a climate activist. We are the same.

We give voice to concerns of millions of people on this planet. 

I have my own identity, own country and own story.

Even during COP25, when I traveled all the way from India to Europe for raising funds they began calling me 'Greta of India'. I addressed the world leaders but some media highlighted it as 'India's Greta urges world leaders to act on climate change'.

I think such news headline is not fair. I want to ask them if they are highlighting my voice or someone else's voice. Greta is already at another level and has achieved global recognition.

That's why I wrote today on my Twitter, 'If you call me Greta of India, you are not covering my story. You are deleting a story'.

A few days back also, when I went to address some international conferences, instead of calling out my name, they called me out as 'Greta of India' and it hurt me a lot.

Even when people come to take pictures with me, they ask, 'Are you Greta of India?' I think this is not fair.

This problem is everywhere. Every climate activist in any region or country of the world is referred to as Greta of those areas.

We (Greta and I) had several discussions in the pasts when we met. This sort of comparisons deletes unique stories, identities, names and movements. Now, the media will learn a new lesson and will be more cautious before deleting unique stories of all climate change activists all over the world.

Everybody will get to share her/his unique voice and story.

How would you want India to fight climate change?

India should take the lead in implementing Paris Climate Agreement. But our leaders as well as global leaders are failing us since the last 25 years.

India needs to abandon the fossils fuels economy.

How are you going to celebrate International Women's Day?

I will celebrate in various places across India. The main event will be at the UN office at New Delhi on March 11. I am also preparing to plant 1,000 trees in an outskirts area of Bengaluru on March 21.

The best gift parents can give to their children is the beautiful planet.

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