Sunita Viswanath, Executive Director, Hindus for Human Rights, was one of the speakers at GreenFaith’s Global Faith Webinar: COP26, Fossil Fuel Divestment and a Just Transition for All held October 28. The views expressed are her own.
At the first GreenFaith retreat I attended as a fellow, almost ten years ago, I shared this prayer:
Samudra Vasane Devi
Parvata Sthana Mandite
Vishnu Patni Namastubhyam
Padha Sparsha Kshamashvame
—-Oh Holy Mother, the oceans are your robes and the mountains your breasts; Oh holy consort of Lord Vishnu, please forgive us for placing our feet on you.
The self-awareness of the devotee who asks for forgiveness just for stepping on Earth is moving and humbling to me. I marvel at the Jains who wear a face-covering so they do not breathe in bugs, and don’t eat roots because digging them up causes turmoil in the earth.
Where are such spiritual beings today? We must all be such spiritual beings, taking on the fossil fuel industry. Our interconnected fate depends on it.
The fossil fuel industry is the largest contributor to climate change. This industry has repeatedly violated the human rights of countless local and Indigenous communities. It has funded climate change denial. This is unjust and unfair, and it is a grievous use of power. That is why we are glad to join in this global, multi-faith call for divestment from fossil fuels and investment in universal access to clean energy – and to urge Hindu organizations to become more involved.
Hindus for Human Rights calls for justice wherever it is denied — whether it is for Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Dalits in India; Hindus in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan; whether it is racial and economic justice in the United States; and whether it is Climate Justice, Earth Justice for us all.
Proponents of a-dharma and a-nyaya — moral wrongs and injustice — refuse to see the connections between us all, and all of nature. They do not understand that when some of us suffer, we all suffer. That when rights are denied to religious, ethnic and cultural minorities, to women, to LGBTQ persons, when an economy based on brutal extraction and climate destruction is built and supported, our collective world is destroyed. These ideologies of violence are connected, just as we are all connected.
To separate human rights advocacy from climate advocacy is a fraud, a political expediency, a mendacity. As an Indian American, I am deeply concerned that Hindu nationalist forces are taking India in a direction which gravely risks the safety and wellbeing, the enfranchisement, the very lives, of religious minorities, particularly Muslims. As a Hindu American, I am heartbroken that this is happening in the name of my faith, an aberration of my faith.
These same regressive religious forces are weakening climate and environmental protections in India at the behest of the wealthy and multi-national corporations.
Even as our Advocacy Director Nikhil Mandalaparthy was in Minnesota as part of Greenfaith’s multi-faith delegation to the Line 3 protests this summer, Indigenous people in India were marching against police brutality and mining companies that were threatening their own ancestral lands. Our struggles are interconnected.
We see it as our dharma, or moral and spiritual obligation, to speak for our planet and her people, particularly the poorest and most marginalized.
Indian banks and financial institutions, including the State Bank of India, ICICI, Axis Bank, the Trust Group and HDFC, are among the largest global financial institutions funding fossil fuel projects. This must stop. The Indian government, an avowedly Hindu nationalist government, is continuing to support investment in coal development. The government and these banks must commit to ending their financing for coal projects by 2030.
Thirteen years ago, I was in Bhopal India, where in 1984 the world’s deadliest industrial disaster took place. I met brave Bhopali child activists who went to the Indian government with colored paper hearts with the message, “Since you don’t have a heart, here’s ours. Please give us clean air and water in Bhopal.”
Climate change harms all people, and the people most harmed are people who have already been marginalized.
Climate justice is a human right and will only be possible through grassroots movements of people of diverse faiths demanding it; the fossil fuel industry and the institutions that fund and support them have shown that they will not do the right thing on their own. Let us say to them, “Since you don’t have a heart, here’s ours.”
We at Hindus for Human Rights support divestment from fossil fuels as a moral witness that demands justice for humans. We call for universal energy access for the 800 million people globally who live without electricity. At least 300 million of these people live in India, and it is vital that values-driven investors get out of fossil fuels and invest in climate solutions that will help provide these people access to energy that is clean, affordable, reliable and safe.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says,
“If anyone offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.”
His ideal devotees are pure of heart and their offerings are of nature and humble.
Also, his ideal devotee embodies para-dukha-dukhi, that is, feels the pain of fellow living beings as their own, and commits themself to lokasamgraha (the wellbeing of all beings and indeed all aspects of the universe).
It is urgent that we humankind realize we have lost our way. We are turning away from Mother Earth, Bhumi Devi, Prithvi Maa, who loves all her children equally and identically; who is the divine light in the poorest and richest among us; who wants our hearts to be full of love, not the devastation we are wreaking upon her. We must remember that we are all one, inseparable from each other, with the divine light equally present in each one of us and every part of the universe.
So much of our multi-faith work for the environment and the planet builds on the wisdom of indigenous peoples across the world. I end with these words from Australian Aborginal activist and artist Lilla Watson,
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”