They say age is only a number. In fact, this statement is truer today than ever before because it is the youngest of stalwarts fighting against climate change who seem to be having an impact. Hailing from the ancient city of Haridwar, Uttarakhand, you have Ridhima Pandey (11). She might be too young to drive a car or vote to choose the government, but that isn’t stopping her from suing the state for its lack of action towards climate change. Being hailed as the Greta Thunberg of India, this spirited preteen is already making headlines with her activism towards a better planet.
If you thought she’s the only Greta India has to boast, shift your gaze to the Northeast, where Elangbam Valentina Dev (9), a Class V student, has been appointed Manipur’s Green Ambassador or Mumbai’s Arjun Mehta and his friends, who sent a video to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to save Aarey trees.
Young Green Warriors
Young, spirited, and action-oriented — Valentina, Ridhima and Arjun’s endeavours, among those of many youngsters across the world, may just make the difference between a sustainable future and complete devastation.
Ridhima’s tryst with the spotlight began in 2017 when she filed a case against the Centre for its inaction to tackle climate change. “I had started a petition with the NGT (National Green Tribunal) with the help of my lawyer,” recalls Ridhima. Even though the NGT said that climate change was already covered under the environmental impact assessment and disposed off her plea, Ridhima’s journey had just started.
Fast forward two years and the young activist is creating ripples of impact again as she joins Greta Thunberg and 14 other environmentally conscious youngsters to file a complaint with the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child against five respondent countries — Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey — for being the highest greenhouse gas emitters. So, how did this turn of events take place? “After the first petition, I got involved in a lot of environmental movements. When my lawyer came to know about the petition being signed with the UN, he contacted my family and I decided to be a part of it too,” explains Ridhima.
But becoming a part of this was no child’s play. Ridhima shares, “I contacted the organisation looking for young climate change activists. They interviewed me in the last week of August. Once I had convinced them of my commitment towards the cause, they asked me to travel to New York for the summit.”
Soon, the small wonder was on her way to the Big Apple. “I met with Greta and all the other young activists. We all sat down and discussed how the issue of climate change is being handled in our respective countries and what better steps should be taken,” Ridhima says.
Save Tree = Save Life
Valentina’s story, on the other hand, is about making a difference at the grassroots of change. A video of her crying over felled trees moved many to tears across the world. Her involvement began with a personal tragedy. “My father had brought 20 trees four years ago when I was in Class I. I planted all of them, but only two lived to grow up with me along the Maramba Maril river. I loved them and then suddenly I saw that my trees had been chopped. I felt heartbroken.”
The child refused to lose heart despite the loss and planted 40 new saplings . “I am grooming them to become trees,” she reveals. Valentina wishes to become a forest officer to “create awareness about the importance of plants.”
Admitting that her life has changed since Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh appointed her as his Green Ambassador, she says, “I am very happy as my friends and even teachers at Amutombi Devine Life English school, Wabagai have become a part of my green mission.” She feels that children can change the world if they decide to work united for the environment.
As for Ridhima, joining the fight against climate change was a natural progression because the Pandey household has always been a very environmentally conscious one. The young girl was inspired by her father Dinesh Pandey, who has been working for 16 years for an NGO in Uttarakhand. Her mother works for the forest department of Uttarakhand. “Thanks to my parents, environment and climate change is the main topic of discussion in our house. I love nature — birds, animals, trees,” she says. She keeps herself updated on climate change through Youtube videos and Instagram posts from around the world.
Each one, Plant One
Among all this brilliance, one cannot forget that these change-makers are, after all, children. Mumbai witnessed one of the most massive campaigns led by tree lovers, mainly young students to save thousands of trees at Aarey Colony. Some students even went on a hunger strike against the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation’s (MMRC) move to chop over 2,000 trees in Aarey Colony during late night hours. Arjun Mehta (5) and his friends, Siddhant and Saisha, met Shiv Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray and urged him to save Aarey. “Aaditya uncle assured us that he will save Aarey for us,” says Arjun, whose 2016 video to PM Modi on saving Aarey was largely shared on social media.
Likewise, to create awareness of a smoke-free Diwali, several students from Khushbow Vidya Niketan School, Hyderabad pledged not to burst crackers. Some of the students also led a 'No-Plastic' campaign in the school’s neighborhood. “We see the effects of climate change every single day,” says Lasya, a FITJEE, CLASS XI student, adding “I, along with my friends conducted a campaign of #fridaysforfuture which is all about spreading awareness about environmental pollution and climate change.”
Actions Speak Louder
Premkumar, Valentina’s father who is an auto-rickshaw driver, says, “For the last few days Valentina has been busy with her half-yearly examination but she doesn’t forget to water her plants.” On August 3, 2019, a video of the girl crying and expressing her grief over the axing of two Gulmohar trees, which she planted four years ago, had stormed social media. It came to the notice of Manipur’s CM who, appointed her as the brand ambassador for ‘Chief Minister’s Green Manipur Mission’ for one year.
Her uncle, Elangbam Monen Kumar, a CRPF personnel had shot the video. “When I saw Valentina crying over the axed trees, I took a video and uploaded it on FB.” But life in the spotlight is not rosy. For instance, Priyanka has to work more than most children her age, trying to balance studies and activism. “It gets difficult as I miss school often while I am out for these trips. There are some classmates who help me with the notes,” she says. Ridhima’s journey might be a mature and difficult one. “There are some kids in my school who don’t like the fact that I go places, get media attention,” says Ridhima.
In their free time, these youngsters likes to sing, dance and paint just like any other children of their age. What sets them apart from the rest is their unwavering confidence to save Mother Nature.
With the support of their parents, these kids are on a path to become one of the voices of their generation who is fighting for their right to inherit a better Earth. Ridhima also plans on becoming an environmentalist when she grows up. “Too much in our country remains just on pen and paper. Action needs to be taken now,” she concludes grittily.
(With inputs from Sonali Telang in Mumbai and Swati Sharma from Hyderabad)