Protest in Mumbai

It was a Saturday morning on September 28, 2013. When I was getting ready, my four year old daughter asked me where I was going and if she can join me. What I told her is that I am going to stand up for those who save the homes of polar bears. She kissed me and said come back soon.

At 12 pm I joined a group of 21 people who marched towards the Russian embassy in Mumbai in solidarity with the 30 activists from the Arctic Sunrise, a Greenpeace ship which was seized by the Russian coast guard while carrying out a peaceful protest to stop the oil giant Gazprom from drilling for oil in the Arctic.

The night before this march, I was upset and concerned about the activists and the charges they may face once the investigation is done. I was constantly thinking about corporate control in our lives and the space left for activism to correct it. Our education teaches us to stand up anytime there is injustice. This is what the Arctic 30 did but they have been detained.

On 27th September 2013, a new report by the UN IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report said with 95% certainty that global warming is a result of human activities. The temperature between 1983 and 2012 was the warmest in the past 1,400 years [in the northern hemisphere]. The report further highlights the fact that the decrease in the Arctic sea ice cover in the last three decades is "unprecedented" compared to the last 1,450 years. The report further says that the Arctic is on track to be ice-free in summer before 2050, much sooner than the previous reports projected.

There are seven billion of us on this planet. Each and every one of us is affected by the health of the Arctic: by reflecting the sun's rays off the ice, the Arctic shapes our weather patterns and the food we grow and eat.

Global warming is real. The only way out is to minimise our dependence on fossil fuel. I remember Gandhi who said "The world has enough for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed." Human greed is now attracting corporates to drill the Arctic without any consideration of the after effects. So, we stood up in the solidarity with the Arctic 30 activists whose future is completely dependent on the investigative team out there in Russia. We believe that they have done nothing to deserve detention for two months or even two minutes.

As planned, we all reached near the embassy on Napean Sea road at 12 pm and assembled peacefully with placards in our hands demanding immediate release of the activists. Things were going fine and our peace keepers were doing their job of convincing the security guard at the gate. Suddenly, a big police van arrived on the spot and dragged us to the Malabar Hill police station. One of our participants Bhagwan was constantly negotiating with the inspector while all others kept their calm.

Bearing witness to the situation at hand, I felt it was my responsibility to ensure this peace vigil served its objective of conveying our concerns to the Russian embassy. Though the peaceful vigil succeeded to convey the message to the officials and the public in the vicinity, the aftereffect of the same was unpleasant.

In the beginning the cops were very offensive and were threatening the volunteers of pressing various charges. They detained 16 volunteers for more than two hours and took every one's details. Later on the Sr. police inspector Mr. Bagade, called all of them and confirmed that the volunteers were standing up for a good cause and that's why they are not pressing any serious charges rather releasing them with nominal charges under Bombay Police Act section 68 and 69 (Section 68 says persons are bound to confirm to reasonable orders and directions of a police officer and Section 69 says the police have the power to restrain or remove any person resisting.

When I recap the two hours that we spent inside the police station, I remember that I was completely restless. The communication between me and the team was barred and we could communicate only through SMS. I was very concerned that nothing happens to them and they get released as early as possible and I was trying my bit to release them from the outside. When I received one SMS from Rahul, one of the peacekeepers saying that they are being charged for breaking section 144 levied in the area and chances of coming out without a lawyer is minimal I felt very alarmed.

As the clock was ticking I was only thinking that the group could somehow negotiate and inspire the police inspector so that they can come out without any legal proceedings. As I received the message that they were released, I was very happy and my trust in the goodness of the world was restored.


Pankaj Kumar is a fundraising manager with Greenpeace India.