11 June 2014
Photo Credit: Sushant A. Thakur
I have done some street fundraising for Greenpeace. Let me tell you what it's like. A fundraiser is the person you see outside a railway station wearing a Greenpeace jacket and ID card. They approach 8-9 people saying, 'Excuse me, do you have two minutes for the environment?' before one person stops to listen. And they do this for 6 hours a day. Weather, location, mood - no bar. Environment first.
Why do we take the trouble? We could simply accept funding from corporations, political parties or governments. We don't. Mainly to avoid any conflict of interest should we ever find ourselves campaigning against these entities. Secondly, we believe that the onus of a movement and the environment should rest on the able shoulders of every individual. We could easily be 100% dependent on Greenpeace International. Instead, we have spent the last 12 years in India moving towards financial self-sustainability. Through these years, Greenpeace fundraisers and campaigners have talked to millions of people on crowded streets, in trains, at tea stalls, in their offices and homes. They have powered a movement large enough to question some influential people on environmental crimes. More than 60% of our funding now comes from India. This figure will only move upward, as Greenpeace continues to sensitize Indians towards global (yes global!) and national environmental problems and involve them in powering the solutions. I wonder, how much funding pumped into welfare programmes driven by the government comes from international aid again?
News of the report by the Intelligence Bureau painting Greenpeace as an anti-development organization made the front page of a leading national newspaper. Who doesn't love a good scandal, right? Good guy is the bad guy. At Greenpeace, we have to see 57 activists, forest community representatives and volunteers arrested and charged for peacefully protesting to make it to the front page. It doesn't matter that we are followed by company goons in the forest where we work, or that we're shouting that the food you eat is not going to be natural and safe for you anymore. We struggle to find a media presence.
The report by the Intelligence Bureau has questioned the intentions, methods and objectives of Greenpeace, an organization known the world over for its peaceful activism. How many instances of violence and damage of public property have been caused by political entities in our country? In the Greenpeace office, when we have disagreements, we don't throw chairs. There are days I sit in office till 9 pm, trying to find ways to make people understand that something is wrong with our environment and we need to fix it immediately. I am trying to turn a society that has become banal towards the world outside their apartments and no NGO ever made them that way. What time do government offices generally close? I speak for all NGOs here, who strive day in and day out to raise funds and make an impact in society. It takes a single news article to raise questions about the NGOs credibility in the very society it strives to change. Yesterday, despite my frustration, I rejoiced at this dismal piece of news. I said to my volunteers, "They don't fight you unless they see you, and believe you are everything you say you are, and can achieve everything you say you will."
Ruth D'Costa is a Public Engagement Campaigner with Greenpeace India.