Youth Women Environmental Human Rights Defender - working to protect the environment and human rights!
We met Ananya through her father’s organization Project Affected People’s Association (PAPA) which has been supporting indigenous communities in India to assert their fundamental human rights such as land, water, natural resources, and clean and healthy environment. We saw their work, particularly her proactive role in gathering support, educating communities, and gathering fellow youth to address the climate and human rights crisis we face today, especially in Asia and the Pacific! Her unwavering courage gave us so much inspiration!
Below is a short transcript of our interview with Ananya. It reveals how and why she chose to be a Woman Environmental Human Rights Defender!
Q1. What inspired you to get involved in environmental protection?
Growing up in a coal mining area, I have witnessed the devastating impact of mining on the environment and the health of local communities. The pollution, deforestation, and loss of biodiversity deeply affected me. I have seen infants of backward class communities, residing very close to coal mines, playing with coal dust, pouring into mouth, children working in illegal coalmines, people suffering from Blackfoot, other skin diseases, stomach problems after drinking and using water contaminated with arsenic in coal mining area, the scarcity of water due to continuously sinking down water level, people dying with symptoms of silicosis, anthracosis etc.
It became clear to me very early, that, something needed to be done to protect our environment and the well-being of the people living in these areas. This realization, coupled with my passion for social justice and sustainability, inspired me to become actively involved in environmental protection by connecting with our organisation, PAPA (Project Affected People’s Association).
Q2. What are some of the challenges you face in your advocacy and campaigns
The main challenges I have faced during our advocacy and campaigns is resistance and opposition from various mining companies including Govt. authorities, stakeholders, and even local political parties. It’s a major challenge to overcome the resistance from influential stakeholders, such as mining companies and policymakers, who may prioritize economic interests over environmental concerns.
Sometime mining company bribes the local leaders who divert their communities by conveying false promises. Convincing those people of the long-term benefits of transitioning to more sustainable and environment friendly alternatives can be a difficult task. Also limited resources and funding often pose challenges in implementing and scaling up our initiatives.
Additionally, Being a Bengali medium (local language) school student, Language barrier was a tough challenge for me to convey or share our struggle worldwide. Am still working on the development of my communication skill and looking for experienced environmental activists or mentors who can guide me in this journey.
Q3. What are some of the successes you’ve had?
While my journey is still in its early stage, there is a very long way forward to achieve so called “success”, still I’m proud to be a part of the socio-environmental organisation, PAPA (Project Affected People’s Association), and our achievements are truly satisfying for me. Firstly, people in the region we are working actively, are now much aware about the health impacts of coal mining. Through community outreach programs, workshops, and educational campaigns, the awareness has been raised about environmental laws, forest right acts, exploitation of workers in coal mines, risk of landslide-poisonous gas and fire in coal mining areas.
We have been able to build an alliance “NO MORE COAL network” in the collaboration with social/environmental organizations, individual activists and mining affected people.
Moreover, in some recent years I have get the opportunity to connect with some national and international level networks concerned with the environmental issues.
Q4. What do you hope to achieve in your current and future campaigns?
In my current and future campaigns, my primary focus is to make “NO MORE COAL” and “NO MORE FOSSIL FUEL” a global call. It is to promote sustainable development by encouraging the adoption of eco-friendly energy sources like solar power etc.
I aim to advocate for the rights of local affected communities, their socio-economic rehabilitation, and ensure their voices are heard in decision-making processes.
Additionally, we are also trying to preserve and promote the indigenous culture as the worshiper of nature, reforestation initiatives, renewable energy projects, and the creation of green jobs. Ultimately, I hope to contribute a more for a fossil fuel free sustainable future.
Q5. What advice would you give to other young people who are interested in doing what you do?
My advice to other young people and my fellows who are interested in environmental advocacy is to start by educating themselves about the issues. Understanding the environmental, social, and economic aspects of the problem is crucial for effective advocacy. Additionally, it’s important to build a network of like-minded individuals and organizations who can support and amplify your efforts. Utilize the power of social media communication to reach a wider audience and build network.
I specially feel it’s very important to develop effective communication skills to convey your message clearly and passionately.
Environmental advocacy can be challenging. Stay committed to your cause and be prepared to face setbacks. We shouldn’t give up hope from small actions we made these steps are also necessary for long-term change.
PAPA has been supporting the movement of Indigenous communities to stop the proposed Deuchami Pachami Coal Mine in West Bengal, India. It is set to be the largest coal mine in Asia if it pushes through.