Indian economic development is at a critical juncture. From slowing economic growth to the depreciating rupee to widespread disgust with rampant corruption, India’s “anything goes” model has failed to provide a realistic, prosperous future for its people. Across the country, local communities have been steamrolled by reckless expansion of coal plants and coal mines that have displaced local communities, destroyed the remaining Indian forests, and ravaged the livelihoods of those left in their wake.
But today, the Goldman Environmental Prize is shining a spotlight on one of the grassroots activists that has fought back against this devastation. Ramesh Agrawal, one of this year’s recipients, comes from Chhattisgarh, India. The tenth largest state in India, Chhattishgarh is a place where the devastating reality of a reliance on coal can be seen every day.
“I found it impossible to say ‘This is OK’ while in India’s coal country,” wrote National Geographic contributor Rob Kendrick, who documented coal mining in Chhattisgarh in a powerful series of photographs . “I’ve worked in India for 22 years and I’ve seen a lot of poverty but always the people were safe, clean, and lived reasonably. This time was different.
“Human suffering happens in many places.This situation is not unique, but entire communities being pushed down so far to provide something that comforts some just seems grotesque. It would be like a farmer growing food for others while seeing his own family face hunger.”
What Kendrick has described is the day-to-day reality for the average Indian living in Chhattisgarh and other coal mining areas -- and the atmosphere that surrounded Ramesh’s community. But the even darker secret surrounding these areas is the horror that awaits activists like him that are brave enough to stand up to big coal and demand justice.