Intersectionality at the Core of Environmental Conservation

Graphic by Arkayana

It goes without question as to how the environment has sustained us and continues to do so, even with our deeply exploitative methods that threaten not only our survival, but of the other living species as well. Environmental justice is a social movement that seeks fair treatment for people of all communities in developing laws and policies regarding the environment.

Sustainability and environmental justice are interdependent and both extremely necessary to create an equitable environment for all.It is a basic human right to have agency over the creation of laws and policies that directly affect our lives. It doesn’t come as a shock to know that many people are made victims by the enforcement of laws and plans made for some privileged communities. Planning to construct a building by cutting down a section of a forest will not only create problems for the environment but also for many communities that may depend on it for their existence and income. Poor and marginalized communities are often major victims of this unfair exposure to harm. Other examples include disproportionate resource extraction, hazardous waste due to growth of industrial areas, unequal distribution of land that causes instability in living conditions and a dire lack of basic needs such as food, air and water.

Inequalities in society create huge barriers for gender, class, caste and other minorities to access resources, participation in policy framework and implementation or even to relief initiatives, if any, made for their benefit. Most laws and policies are often exclusive to these marginalized communities. We can see many examples in recent times. In 2020, the Telangana government began evicting displaced Adivasis from forest land in areas like Warangal, Khammam, Mulugu and Bhadradri Kothagudem. The Etalin Dam, set to be built in Dibang Valley, Arunachal Pradesh, is facing a lot of protests as there is criticism that it would submerge over 300,000 trees and affect several thousand Mishimi people — an indigenous tribal group who will face not only displacement and loss of livelihood but also this dam will cause hindrance to their right to access their primary site of worship, Athu Popu, which is near this project. On June 28, the union environment, forest and climate change ministry notified the Forest Conservation Rules 2022 to shift onto state governments the union’s responsibility of ensuring that the rights of tribals to their traditional forestlands are recognised, and their consent is taken before their forests are chopped down. These new rules will allow the government to clear forest areas without the consent of the forest dwellers and hand over projects to private companies ignoring any rights of the original settlers. Despite these traditional communities dwelling closer to the environment than anyone else, they are seen as a hindrance to developmental policies. These marginalized communities are seen as uncivilized due to their proximity and dependency on nature. Laws and mandates systematically deny these communities their livelihood and give them no alternative but to live a life of displacement and poverty. Thus we see that intersectionality needs to be at the core of every environmental intervention in resource conservation and allocation.

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