Children of the Chinar, Season 3, Climate champion
Anmol Ohri is the founder of Climate Front India, a youth led collective aiming to create space for awareness and advocacy on the issues of climate change. Starting off as a small campaign, Climate Front India morphed into a full-fledged organisation in the past two years. Taking up critical issues such as Save Raika Forest, the Climate Front India now works towards mobilising the younger population in Jammu and Kashmir to become important stakeholders for positive climate action in the region. He spoke to Aayushi Sharma.
Anmol Ohri believes the Kashmiri climatic ecosystem needs urgent support and protection.
Aayushi Sharma: So, Anmol, my first question to you would be about your organisation. What is the Climate Front India? How would you define this organisation and how did it start?
Anmol Ohri: So there is a strong climate justice discourse that has been a part of the climate action movement all over the world. This organisation started out because of this discourse. I personally was always intrigued about the social problems and the people around me were also interested in working for social issues. If I talk about myself, climate action was not my focus for a long time, I knew this problem existed but it did not seem like this is something to be focused upon right now. It was in 2019, as the international discourse for climate change became very mainstream. It was on 20th September 2019 when Greta Thunberg had called for a global climate strike to raise voices for climate action. I started gaining motivation and realised that this is something we all should work for. This is a collective cause. So I realised that this is actually something that needs to be focused upon by us.
At that time Jammu and Kashmir was also in a transitional phase and there was no internet as well. We, at the time, thought that we could start an initiative for climate action in our state as well. There should be an initiation of this issue in our state as well that has largely been focused on just national and sociopolitical issues. So we did a march on 28th October 2019 which was a day before Diwali at that time and at that time there was no plan for an organisation. We were just four five people for this at that time. So we did a march calling for a prohibition on firing crackers and there was a lot of energy. We realised we should not let this energy go so we used social media for more campaigns like these. We eventually called ourselves Climate Front Jammu. After more people started joining us, within six to seven months we finally moved from Climate Front Jammu to Climate Front India. This was when we understood that this was a time to transition into an established organisation. We became one of the first organisations in the region to organise on-ground protests after the covid restrictions were imposed. The momentum kept building.
The general idea of creating the aim of our organisation was that we want to develop an organisation that is focused on climate justice and recreating the understanding of the Indian public about the environment. So if I just give you a one line answer, it is a climate justice organisation which is bringing more youth together for the issue.
AS: So, you have traced the whole journey of Climate Front India from being a group to a whole organisation. In this respect, how would you define the expansion of the issues that the organisation has taken up over the period?
AO: From the beginning only our strategy was that we wanted to raise the right questions and talk about things which people feared talking about. Especially in J&K people feared going against the administrative decisions. We wanted climate change to be a serious issue. The problem that we faced was that people were not radical enough. It was in the initial years that we got to know about the Raika Forest issue. This issue was a very big issue at that time. In 2019 the whole case started and we were just starting our initiatives. We followed the issue but could not contribute heavily at that time. Within a year of that after we had established ourselves we got to know that there would be an eviction of the indigenous tribes in the region. We saw the things that we read about in newspapers. We realised that this is exactly the time when we should start talking about this issue.
It was at this time that we organised the campaign called Valentine’s with Raika. This was a very positive campaign for saving the Raika forest. This campaign was featured in all the mainstream media as we were recreating the Chipko movement. This helped in creating an environmental discourse in our region. It was also in civil society and administrative circles that people started focusing on these issues. So, our strategy has been to create such a symbolic movement and also support the already existing environmental movements for people to see that these issues are of great importance.
AS: So one of the things that has struck me was that one of your aims would be to recreate the understanding of the Indian public over issues of climate change. How would you define this understanding at this point?
AO: If I talk about the past three years, things are changing. If I talk about movements like the Save Aarey movement. These kinds of movements have been developing all over the country now. We realised that such kinds of movements need to be developed in our region as well. Before this, only the people associated with environmental issues understood these problems but the larger discourse remained confined to just banning plastic, reducing, reusing, recycling or just planting trees. The understanding that we need to preserve the existing trees and the ecosystem through means of conservation is still being developed in mainstream knowledge. The discourse for conservation skills needs to be built further.
AS: So tell me about your work specific to Jammu and Kashmir.
AO: So we have done various campaigns, our two and a half year long cleanup campaign is still going on. In our Friends of River campaign we have involved ourselves with cleaning activities. We still haven't seen any major impact but we will keep on carrying out this project. We have approached the pollution control board as well but we still haven't been able to engage the main stakeholders and position holders. We have realised that we need to keep on doing this consistently for years before people can understand.
We have also set up various smaller campaigns in colleges and mobilise people to join our cause. We also provide support and guidance for people who want to develop new initiatives such as organisations for green entrepreneurship. So basically community building has also become one of our major aims.
AS: So I think my last question would be regarding the involvement of young people in the climate action movement. Why do you think it is important?
AO: The issue of climate action is going to affect the young population the most because it is going to get worse. There is something called intergenerational justice, when we think about this justice we have to think for three generations before and three generations after us. So when we think from this perspective we understand why the involvement of youth is important. Only the youth can be closely aware of the problems because the people of the higher age group and those at the top are not thinking far ahead. So as the younger population, they need to inspire change.
AS: So before we end, do you have any messages for the readers?
AO: All of us have been conditioned to believe that there is only one way of living but there is another way as well. We just have to explore and if we find that way we can move on towards the common problems that humanity is facing right now. If everyone just focuses on the problem of climate change I believe all the other problems will be automatically solved. So my message is that climate change is the most important crisis that the world is facing at this point so we need to work towards it closely.