New Delhi: In 2020, a total of 227 people across the world were killed while protecting their homes, the environment and fighting for land rights, says a report released this week by the UK-based organisation, Global Witness, which includes datasets documenting the deaths and attacks on eco defenders.
Four such deaths have been documented in India -- Tamil Nadu-based journalist Isravel Moses, 25- year -old Shubham Mani Tripathi, based in Uttar Pradesh reporting on sand mafia, Ranjan Kumar Das and Pankaj Kumar. These deaths point to a pattern of violence against eco-defenders, and those speaking up against environmental offences.
Over half of the reported deaths took place in just three countries: Colombia, Mexico and the Philippines. Colombia recorded the highest number of deaths for the second year in a row, with 65 reported deaths. Mexico recorded 30, and the Philippines 29 deaths, says the report.
That is an average of more than four people a week, and more than double the number reported in 2013, the report’s authors wrote. Further, they connected this rise in violence with the worsening climate crisis itself.
Global Witness in its report also states that it believes that this dataset is almost certainly an underestimate. “But looking at the trends over time, we have documented a consecutive rise in the number of killings globally since 2018, rising to well over 200 environment defenders murdered in 2019 and 2020 – over double the numbers we recorded in 2013.”, it says.
The report adds that without significant change, the both the climate crisis and attacks against defenders likely to get worse, as more land is grabbed, more forests felled in the interest of short-term profits.
Speaking to Media India, Stalin Dayanand, who convenes the NGO Vanashakti based in Mumbai and has faced several such attacks himself, said: “What I can say from my years of experience is that these are the figures that are reported. The actual number of deaths is much higher. Because when they report it as the death of an activist, it reflects on the state government very poorly. So, generally, this is covered up. But protecting forests or the environment is a very dangerous business in India. I myself have been attacked thrice. I know first-hand how it feels,”
Earlier, such attempts at documenting crimes against defenders have been made in India, too. A report by South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People released last year shows that at least 193 people died during illegal sand mining operations across India from January 2019 to November 15, 2020. The report, collated by a network of organisations working on rivers, shows that in this period, 23 farmers and villagers, five reporters and activists and 11 government officials, including forest guards, policemen, revenue officials, mining personnel and district officials have been killed by illegal miners.
Speaking with NewsClick over phone, Alok Shukla of the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, said: “The report talks about the ongoing patterns of attacks, from Ramesh Aggarwal being shot at in Chhattisgarh to the attempts of silencing and vilifying us, we are faced by consistent threats, it is this corporate and government nexus which has strengthened over time and is aimed at privatizing resources, doling out land to corporates and carrying out erosion of our natural resources that is threatened by our resistance.”
Over 50,000 environment-related cases are awaiting trial in India, according to the latest State of Environment report. A public interest litigation was filed in the Supreme Court asking the top court to issue directions for urgently filling up of large-scale vacancies that have been plaguing Indian courts, notably the National Green Tribunal.
Speaking with NewsClick over phone, activist Disha Ravi, who faced an arrest owing to her campaign work, said: “It's hard to be an environmental activist in India because of the constant threats we face. All campaigns we do may be tied to a big organisation or the government itself. Sometimes as little as sending emails the government requested can end with a UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) notice being served. We also don't win a lot of campaigns so it feels like an uphill battle.”