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When ‘We the People’ stand up and make demands, defend streams, trees and animals

By Rosamma Thomas*

When a black deer was shot and killed on July 5, 2024 at village 9 DD in Padampur, Sriganganagar district of Rajasthan, local people set out in protest in large numbers and blocked the road; the hunter was arrested, and the weapon he used was recovered. Anil Dharniya, a local wildlife activist who has long been taking care of sick animals, rushing them to rescue centres and arranging for treatment, was quick to inform local reporters, and new reports of the protest and the killing appeared in local newspapers soon afterwards.
After villagers in Navinal village of Kutch district in Gujarat moved a public interest litigation the High Court, the state government was forced to retract and promise that 108 acres of grazing land that had been given to Adani Group in 2005 would be recovered. The case took 13 years to reach a final judgment; this is land near the Mundra Port, and 231 acres of gauchar land had been allotted to Adani Ports and SEZ.
In Uttar Pradesh, after media reports appeared about plans to fell over 33,000 trees along the route of the Kanwar Yatra pilgrimage, the matter was taken to the National Green Tribunal – the state government clarified that felling of trees would occur only along a 15-metre stretch.
In Hyderabad a few years ago, citizens rallied together to save century-old banyan trees to be felled for widening of national highway 163.
These are some significant victories, at a time when “development” and “national security” are cited as compelling reasons for irrational destruction. Massive mining in dense forests earlier declared ‘no-go areas’ for such activity, like Hasdeo Aranya, could not be prevented; enormous destruction is set to occur in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Yet, small victories must be repeatedly recalled, as a deliberate exercise in charting collaborative action to preserve life and livelihood.
In 1942, during World War II, after the British Army withdrew from Malaya, Singapore and Burma, the threat of Japanese invasion loomed large over India. In February 1942, Gandhiji read news reports of a broadcast over All India Radio, in which Major General Molesworth said that India’s eastern coastline was 2000 miles in length, and it was not easy to locate a raider on such a vast sea board.
“From the point of view of the army, in this enormous battle front we shall hold vital places which it is necessary to hold in order to make India safe, but we cannot hold every one. Therefore what is to be done for the rest of India where we are unable to put troops or air or naval forces? We cannot arm all. 
"On the other hand, we can do a great deal to educate the masses to give the Japanese a great deal of trouble. This must be done by the civil people like you. The army cannot do it. The people can work in bands and give trouble and delay and destroy the invasion. It may be there is no proper lead from the top and no proper leadership down below. 
"Still, I feel the Japanese invasion can be beaten, if we educate the people on the lines of ‘They shall not pass’. Psychologically, it can only be done by the intelligentsia, working definitely shoulder to shoulder to work up the peasant.”
BR Nanda, in his book "Gandhi and His Critics" (1985) quoted this excerpt and explained that it was from Maj Gen Molesworth that Gandhiji drew inspiration; he called on the British to transfer power to Indian hands so the people could defend their own country in a time of war.
We have since come to realize that not only in a time of war, but also in time of what is widely regarded as peace, the people must stand up and defend not only themselves but also streams, trees and animals, all sentient creatures that cannot represent themselves in Parliament.
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*Freelance journalist

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