Candlelight vigil at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi to free the Arctic 30. © Sudhanshu Malhotra/Greenpeace
October 5, 2013 marked the Global Day of Solidarity for the Arctic 30. Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Bangalore, Kolkata and Chennai observed peaceful candlelight vigils to support the release of the Arctic 30 and defend the right to peaceful activism.
Who are the Arctic 30?
28 Greenpeace activists and two freelance journalists were arrested on September 19 by the Russian authorities for peacefully protesting against oil drilling in the Arctic Pechora sea. They were on board Arctic Sunrise, a vessel that is a peaceful symbol against Arctic oil drilling in the North Pole.
Let's put all the different elements here into perspective - The Arctic, a pristine natural habitat which is home to unique animal and plant species. Gazprom and Shell - drilling the Arctic for approximately three years of oil supply. And Greenpeace's Arctic Sunrise - non violently objecting to the oil drilling. If you look at the situation closely, it is clear that any sort of civil disobedience is not welcome, any disagreement is dealt with the strictest of force such as absurd charges of piracy imposed on the Arctic 30.
Russian security services abseiled from a helicopter onto the deck of the Arctic Sunrise and seized the ship at gunpoint. Photograph taken on September 19 with a camera phone.
The arrest of the Arctic 30 connects with India on different levels.
So does it matter if the Arctic is being drilled for oil? India is nowhere near the North Pole. But what truly and deeply concerns India is the threat to their immediate environment. Climate change is a threat to every living being on this planet. When climate change spirals into action, it does not choose its countries. It is universal in nature and will affect us all at different levels. The extreme events such as the floods in Uttarakhand are exactly the signs which science says shows the planet is in the grip of climate change. The disaster was basically conditions which were created by human beings to further aggravate extreme weather conditions into a natural disaster. India lost over 5,000 lives to the floods, and countless natural habitats.
The Himalayas were announced as a 'hotspot' for climate change, the glacial ice is melting now, and before it's too late we will be losing our perennial source of water to what is 'human induced' climate change. According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, "The world had spent more on corporate/financial bailouts than on promoting sustainability and, least of all, on addressing climate change". The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) report states that, 'There are changes in rainfall intensity, water availability, and as proved by the Uttarakhand disaster, 'increasing frequency of disasters'.
Similar to the melting ice of the Himalayas, the melting ice caps in the North Pole is a sign of urgency, and not an opportunity to establish drilling oil platforms in the Arctic. The melting Arctic ice will impact the unique wildlife in the region such as polar bears, walrus, seals and destroy the livelihood of the indigenous community in the region.
Protest to free the Arctic 30 at Gyarah Murti, New Delhi. © Sudhanshu Malhotra/Greenpeace
The other very significant connect is the violation of human rights and disrespect for peaceful protests. India prides itself on civil disobedience acts since the inception of the freedom movement. Nonviolence and civil disobedience are strong tools which have been repeatedly used to express dissent in India; it was the use of these tools which eventually gave India its independence from colonial powers. The Arctic 30 were in the Pechora sea expressing their dissent and taking direct non violent action to confront the oil drilling in a fragile habitat. To accuse them of piracy and put them in detention is an absolute insult of human rights.
When we came out on October 5 for the candlelight vigil, it was in solidarity with the Arctic 30, to call for their release, and in solidarity and concern for our environment and OUR right to defend peaceful activism. People were holding banners for 30 people they have never met, never known, only to find the light in the darkness, and it only shines as long as we stand together.
Send a letter to the Russian embassy asking for the immediate release of the Arctic 30. Click here.
Ruhie Kumar is a Digital Media Campaigner with Greenpeace India.