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  Opinion   Oped  11 Oct 2019  Gangotri is melting: Will Indians respond with world’s largest ‘XR’?

Gangotri is melting: Will Indians respond with world’s largest ‘XR’?

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Published : Oct 12, 2019, 12:05 am IST
Updated : Oct 12, 2019, 12:05 am IST

Hundreds of them have been arrested by the police who are, unlike the police forces of Hong Kong, been benign but firm.

UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Photo; File)
 UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Photo; File)

“Get out of bed my friend
The tea is getting cold;
To the breach my comrades
The enemy’s getting bold;
The legends are exhausted
Every story has been told;
Look up into the void and see
Space and time unrolled…”
— From Al Sikander to As Likander by Bachchoo

Movements take time before they become mass and then they take time to take effect. Indian Independence, first mooted to grant us a democracy in the late eighteenth century, became a mass movement and came to flawed fruiting fifty or so years later.


From the observations of scientists and the world’s experience of storms, unusual temperatures, floods and furious arguments between climate-change activists and deniers, a mass movement has grown, at least in the West, demanding that “something be done”.

This week the centres of London and other UK cities have seen hundreds of thousands of marchers and campers, protesting in the movement called Extinction Rebellion or XR. In London they’ve stopped traffic to and in the centre, have chained themselves to the bottoms of lorries and cars stalled in the middle of roads and bridges to defy the police to drag them to their deaths and invaded the airports to prevent flights from landing or taking off.


Hundreds of them have been arrested by the police who are, unlike the police forces of Hong Kong, been benign but firm. Every day one witnesses on TV, or in person if one has ventured out to join the XR rebels, men and women, young and old being dragged by a couple of coppers away from the railings to which they had attached themselves.

We saw an 83-year-old protestor arrested for the third time this week.  

UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson (still clinging on when this column was written), has in characteristic prose described the rebels as “unco-operative crusties.” The latter term, in the contemptuous argot of the British bourgeoisie means someone too poor or callous to have a bath. His use of the word was supposed to convey connotations far beyond personal hygiene. He was implying that these were tramps and people on the fringes of productive society – hippies, anarchists and habitual rent-a-crowd protestors.


As usual, Boris, unable to bowl a straight ball, was spinning the truth. The rebellion is manifestly and demonstrably supported by people from right across the socio-economic spectrum. There were groups of doctors, teachers, pop stars and very famous performers who are far from poor or unwilling to buy soap and shampoo. There were even some policemen and an ex-senior cop on the protest was interviewed and said he was taking action now on behalf of future generations.

The Rebellion, active in several countries, is undoubtedly aware that there have been hundreds of debates at the highest level of the state, debating climate change. There have been resolutions, resisted by some major offending countries, on progressively limiting carbon emissions. There have been moves in several countries and in alliances such as the European Union to pass regulations to address the problem of ‘global warming’ — a term that epitomises all the vaunted disasters of climate change in one symptom.


XR says none of this is fast enough or far-reaching enough to address the impending disaster. For thousands of years placard-holders and billboard-wallahs have been announcing that “The End of The World Is Nigh”. These prophets had biblical or other religious or Nostradamic evidence for their predictions and were and are treated by the general public as freaks, eccentrics, doom-sayers and possibly objects of derisory amusement. That’s probably because biblical and Nostradamic evidence may convince those with faith in the bible and in Nostradamus, but is regarded by the rest of us as, at best, unreliable indicators of the planet’s future and at worst as utter bovine dropping.


And now, gentle reader, comes the mass movement of XR – thousands of people on the streets, vehemently declaring that the end of the world is nigh. These thousands protest and insist that their conviction is based on the discoveries of the same science and the same processes of evidence, deduction and projection as that which makes aeroplanes fly, internal combustion engines work, mobile phones communicate and space travel possible.

Though they don’t put it in so many words, their claim is tantamount to saying that Newton, Einstein, Darwin and gang are the forefathers of the tradition through which they deduce their scientific conviction that human action on the planet is threatening to destroy it unless the behaviour and productive and consumptive patterns of all nations are drastically altered. Whew!


There are counter-arguments which those now labelled as “deniers” and vilified as nasty as Nazi-sympathising Holocaust excusers say uses the same science to attribute global warming to cyclical planetary change and to changes in nuclear activity on the sun. This is not, gentle reader, the forum in which to reproduce the arguments and the scientific justifications of either side.

What’s crucial is whether XR will ever become a mass movement in, say, a country which has a lot of modern science knocking about, but whose masses predominantly believe that weather and climate, rain and thunder are caused by the will of the gods. XR depends entirely on the connection between burning fossil fuels, sending carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, causing a shield called greenhouse gases… nothing to do with the will of any rain or sun or storm-cloud god or the drums and invocations sent out to plead with him or her.


One reads that the glacier at Gangotri, the source of Mother Ganga, is melting — owing to global warming. The shape of the cavity from which the holy river’s first source emerges has changed. Will this simple fact get the pilgrims who go there and other believers to amalgamate science and urgency with their faith?

Can and will India, through this amalgamation, generate the world’s largest XR ever with praying, drumming and chanting crowds demanding the government take action?

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