India’s citizenry, especially its grievously short-changed children and youth population of 550 million —the contemporary world’s largest cohort under 24 years of age — need to make common cause with Greta Thunberg. Last September this 15-year-old Swedish schoolgirl boycotted classes every Friday to picket Sweden’s parliament calling upon the country’s — and the world’s — politicians and governments to initiate concerted action to reduce carbon emissions, decelerate climate change and save the world’s rapidly degrading environment. Since then, her Fridays for the Future movement has spread worldwide with teenage children in the US, UK, Australia and Japan among other countries boycotting classes to protest with the growing Strike 4 Climate global movement. On Friday, March 15, an estimated one million students in 2,233 cities and towns around the world took to the streets in a Global Climate Strike, demanding stronger government action and policies to urgently address climate change challenges.
It’s indicative of the extent to which children are bullied into submission and blind obedience that the Strike 4 Climate movement received desultory support from India’s teens and youth in spite of the ground reality that children in this country are far worse short-changed on every parameter of development including climate change, than their counterparts in Sweden and OECD countries. The country’s 1.20 million dysfunctional government primary-secondary schools notorious for their ramshackle buildings, lack of functional toilets, drinking water, rock-bottom learning outcomes and chronic teacher absenteeism apart, the world’s largest child and youth population is obliged to suffer the consequences of environment pollution which is several multiples worse than in Sweden.
According to a 2018 WHO report, 14 of the world’s 15 most polluted cities (measured by PM 2.5 levels in the atmosphere) are in India. Moreover the Mihir Shah Committee, constituted in 2015 to assess ‘21st Century Institutional Architecture for India’s Water Reforms’, reveals that 70 percent of untreated sewage aggregating 40,000 million litres enters India’s rivers and water bodies annually, poisoning the country’s major waterways and underground aquifers.
Yet it’s a measure of political and public indifference to issues of child nurturance and development that the allocation of the Union ministry of environment and forests in the Union budget 2019-20 is a mere Rs.3,111.20 crore, and for education a modest Rs.93,807 crore equivalent to 0.01 percent and 0.45 percent of GDP respectively. With the neta-babu (politician bureaucracy) brotherhood having a vested interest in mass illiteracy, and the country’s compromised academy standing idly by as children’s education, healthcare and environment are ruined by the uncaring and myopic establishment, India’s neglected children and youth have no option but to make common cause with Greta. The future is yours and you must claim it.