stifling criticism

As government denounces ‘bad activist’ Priya Pillai in court, ‘good activists’ come to her defence

The Home Ministry tried to divide social campaigners by lauding some for never testifying before a foreign committee.

If the government is trying to divide social activists by invoking questions of national honour and sovereignty, its plan is not working very well. In an affidavit filed before the Delhi High Court last Friday, the government praised prominent social activists, including Medha Patkar, Nandini Sundar and Praful Bidwai, for never testifying before a foreign committee. That vote of approval was meant as a takedown of Greenpeace campaigner Priya Pillai. But Patkar, Sundar and Bidwai told Scroll.in that they object to this differentiation by the home ministry and expressed their support for Pillai.

“The MHA is basically trying to confuse the issue by making an invidious distinction between activists by saying that a majority of them are in principle opposed to appearing before foreign committees, which is not true,” said journalist and activist Bidwai.

Last month, the authorities at New Delhi airport prevented Pillai from boarding her flight to London where she was to testify before a British parliamentary committee about London-based multinational company Essar’s coal mining project in Mahan affecting local tribal people. In the affidavit, the home ministry justified its move of stopping Pillai, arguing that her testimony would have been “prejudicial to national interest”. The government is worried that Pillai’s statement would be included in foreign policy documents by governments that want to “subdue India’s increasing strength on global platforms”.

Obstructions along the way

Sundar, who is a professor of sociology at the University of Delhi, criticised the ministry’s rationale. “With the internet and all, even if you depose before an Indian committee, if it involves something that foreign countries find interesting, they will pick it up,” Sundar said. In this case, even though Pillai had been physically stopped, she appeared before the British committee via Skype.

Moreover, Sundar pointed out, Pillai has every right to bring the activities of a London-based company to the notice of British legislators. “The question here is: why is the Indian government so interested in defending the foreign companies’ right to exploit Indian resources and Indian adivasis” she said. “Are you concerned about your own resources, your own people and your own environment or the profits of foreign companies?”

The affidavit says that Patkar, Sundar and Bidwai along with Aruna Roy, PV Rajagopal and Admiral Ramdas have “relied on all the institutions of India’s vibrant democracy as provided for by the Indian constitution. They have protested through ‘dharnas’, fasts and marches, approached Indian Court at all levels, petitioned the State and Central government and its officials and extensively used the print and electronic media to make their views known. There is no restriction on the petitioner [Pillai] to use the same or similar routes”.

Patkar countered: “Every government has questioned us, stopped us, harassed us, attacked us, arrested us – so how can you say there is no restriction.” Patkar, in fact, appeared before the US Congress in its 1989 hearings on the Sardar Sarovar project, a fact that the home ministry has forgotten or chosen to ignore.

The ministry affidavit goes on to say, in words formatted in bold, that documentation arising from Pillai’s testimony would create a “misleading” depiction on India’s efforts to protect tribal rights especially at a time when the government is inviting foreign investors to India.

Informing the world

If the prime minister and chief ministers can approach international fora to plead for investment in the country then a citizen activist like Pillai had every reason to go to an foreign committee to protect indigenous rights, Patkar argued.

Bidwai took the same stand. “If you want an integrated world, you want investment from the West, and you want the whole world to take notice of your rising power, then the world has every right to demand accountability from you, whether on environmental issues or gross human rights violations as in Gujarat in 2002,” he said.

Two weeks ago, while asking for an affidavit from the government, the Delhi High Court had said that expressing a different point of view from the government does not amount to being anti-national.

In a statement, Pillai said: “We have filed cases in the High Court in Madhya Pradesh, the National Green Tribunal and in the local court in Waidhan. To ensure that Essar does not get away scot-free, I decided to speak to British MPs who are concerned about tribal rights. It is essential for them to hear the facts about Essar, a London registered company, and for them to express their opinion about UK companies violating Indian laws.”

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Following a mountaineer as he reaches the summit of Mount Everest

Accounts from Vikas Dimri’s second attempt reveal the immense fortitude and strength needed to summit the Everest.

Vikas Dimri made a huge attempt last year to climb the Mount Everest. Fate had other plans. Thwarted by unfavourable weather at the last minute, he came so close and yet not close enough to say he was at the top. But that did not deter him. Vikas is back on the Everest trail now, and this time he’s sharing his experiences at every leg of the journey.

The Everest journey began from the Lukla airport, known for its dicey landing conditions. It reminded him of the failed expedition, but he still moved on to Namche Bazaar - the staging point for Everest expeditions - with a positive mind. Vikas let the wisdom of the mountains guide him as he battled doubt and memories of the previous expedition. In his words, the Everest taught him that, “To conquer our personal Everest, we need to drop all our unnecessary baggage, be it physical or mental or even emotional”.

Vikas used a ‘descent for ascent’ approach to acclimatise. In this approach, mountaineers gain altitude during the day, but descend to catch some sleep. Acclimatising to such high altitudes is crucial as the lack of adequate oxygen can cause dizziness, nausea, headache and even muscle death. As Vikas prepared to scale the riskiest part of the climb - the unstable and continuously melting Khumbhu ice fall - he pondered over his journey so far.

His brother’s diagnosis of a heart condition in his youth was a wakeup call for the rather sedentary Vikas, and that is when he started focusing on his health more. For the first time in his life, he began to appreciate the power of nutrition and experimented with different diets and supplements for their health benefits. His quest for better health also motivated him to take up hiking, marathon running, squash and, eventually, a summit of the Everest.

Back in the Himalayas, after a string of sleepless nights, Vikas and his team ascended to Camp 2 (6,500m) as planned, and then descended to Base Camp for the basic luxuries - hot shower, hot lunch and essential supplements. Back up at Camp 2, the weather played spoiler again as a jet stream - a fast-flowing, narrow air current - moved right over the mountain. Wisdom from the mountains helped Vikas maintain perspective as they were required to descend 15km to Pheriche Valley. He accepted that “strength lies not merely in chasing the big dream, but also in...accepting that things could go wrong.”

At Camp 4 (8,000m), famously known as the death zone, Vikas caught a clear glimpse of the summit – his dream standing rather tall in front of him.

It was the 18th of May 2018 and Vikas finally reached the top. The top of his Everest…the top of Mount Everest!

Watch the video below to see actual moments from Vikas’ climb.

Play

Vikas credits his strength to dedication, exercise and a healthy diet. He credits dietary supplements for helping him sustain himself in the inhuman conditions on Mount Everest. On heights like these where the oxygen supply drops to 1/3rd the levels on the ground, the body requires 3 times the regular blood volume to pump the requisite amount of oxygen. He, thus, doesn’t embark on an expedition without double checking his supplements and uses Livogen as an aid to maintain adequate amounts of iron in his blood.

Livogen is proud to have supported Vikas Dimri on his ambitious quest and salutes his spirit. To read more about the benefits of iron, see here. To read Vikas Dimri’s account of his expedition, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Livogen and not by the Scroll editorial team.