‘Climate, development, and gender’

‘Climate, development, and gender’

Did you know they are all inter-related?

Pragya Sikka

Development – What comes to your mind when you hear this word?
Highways? Roads? Infrastructure?

More often than not, these are the spontaneous responses I receive from the youth groups I engage with.

Because this is a narrative that mainstream media has propagated. Rights and access to education, healthcare, social development, political development – what about them?

This article is not a science lecture on the climate crisis, just a bunch of social reflections based on my learnings in the Gender fellowship by Himachal Queer Foundation and our fieldwork around villages of Bir.

Before actually visiting Bir, I was under the assumption, like many others, who have heard this multiple times that Bir has become so developed now. There are many cafes, and restaurants there now.

It was only after talking to the folks who lived there, the local natives that I was offered insight into how difficult their lives have become because of this ‘development’. The lands they used to do farming on have been taken away— some by manipulation, either by lying altogether or only sharing half-truths. They are not sure who to blame – industrialists, government, migrants who came to Himachal. “Delhi, Mumbai se log aakar, humse humaari hi zameen lease lekar restaurant bana liye, ab humein naukar bana diya hai unmei.”

So, who was this development for? Was that even development? What is the difference between urbanisation and development?

When we think of big roads and highways, who is this ‘development’ for? Who is benefitting from this urbanisation? Who drives on a highway? Someone who owns a cycle, or someone who owns a car?

Where does the land in Himachal to build coal mines and electricity hubs come from, which supplies electricity to the ‘mainland’ and centre of the country? The ‘development’ in these cities comes at whose expense?

Pahaad adivaasi ke liye unka ghar, unki aajeevika, unka devta sab kuchh hai. With these lands being taken away, with ‘smart city’ projects penetrating, the environment and nature are suffering. The floods in Himachal and the pressure on the hills because of newer constructions, causing landslides are all undeniably connected.

There is a lot of evidence about illegal occupation or forceful displacement of farmers in nearby areas of Gurgaon to expand the city land. The water level is decreasing at an alarming rate because of too much reliance, overconsumption and less rain. Whatever is remaining gets contaminated because of nearby industries.

Climate crisis is not an issue – it is a symptom. It is an effect.

But, who does it affect?

Everyone. All of us.

Who does it affect the most?

The ones who are already socio-economically marginalised. Farmers. And daily wage workers.

When climate change results in extreme fog, resulting in flight delays, a rich man frets about their flight getting delayed and then hangs out in the airport. An airport cab driver eats less that day because he didn’t get rides to earn. After all, there were no flights landing. All because of climate change.

I find it very amusing how despite all of this, the media finds a way to make them look ‘evil’ aka those harming the climate for ‘them’.

The media will speak about how ‘paraali’ causes global warming. The government will promise they will eliminate ‘stubble burning’, will blame farmers, but not do anything to provide resources or actual aid (which they can afford, unlike subsidies on tractors which only the bigger farmers can afford because even after subsidy they cost lakhs) to farmers for substituting this for the farmers.

The government shoulders the blame for failing to devise a viable economic model and alternative uses for stubble, despite its widespread utility in various industries globally. Going a bit technical here, but bear with me. The state government’s decision to delay paddy sowing until mid-June, aligning it with the monsoon for reduced groundwater dependency, has inadvertently extended paddy harvesting to late October. This rush leaves farmers with little choice but to burn stubble to prepare for the subsequent wheat crop, ideally sown by mid-November.

While stubble burning is a real issue, how often do we see media call out celebrities who travel via their gas-guzzling private jets? Systemic factors, policy, media, awareness, access, resources – so much plays out when we speak of development and climate change.

Something that I haven’t touched upon in this article yet is ‘gender’.

Well, that’s the thing. Gender doesn’t exist in isolation. Everything we spoke about above, every issue – is a gender issue. Disproportionately affecting women. Disproportionately affecting queer folks. Jahaan ek ladki ko 3 km chalke jaana padta tha, paani laane ke liye, ab 8 km jaana padega. Us bachhi ko ghar ke kaam ke baad 3 ghanta milta tha padhne ke liye, ab 1.5 milta hai. Vo bachhi padhegi kaise?

Climate change exacerbates existing gender inequalities. There is an increased risk of displacement, loss of livelihoods and exposure to violence and exploitation. Breaks my heart writing all of it. If there is one thing you take away from this article, let it be the lens to question ‘development’ the next time you hear it and ask – Who is it for?

Lastly, I urge everyone to read more about the #ClimateFast happening in Ladakh, what is the call that 3 Idiots’ Rancho inspiration, Sonam Wangchuk and thousands of people from Ladakh are making. Become a ‘Friend of Ladakh’!