Large parts of my ancestral homeland India and neighboring Pakistan are facing a severe heat wave, with temperatures reaching 111 degrees Fahrenheit, well above normal.
It’s still spring in South Asia. Peak summer temperatures usually occur in late May or early June, before the monsoon rains arrive. So there could be worse this year – and much worse in the near future.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) identifies South Asia as one of the “global hotspots of high human vulnerability” for the catastrophic impacts of climate change such as heatwaves, floods and droughts – and the resulting loss of life, infrastructure damage and food insecurity
South Asia is home to almost a quarter of the world’s population – and about 29% of all people living in extreme poverty. He already has about 81 millions of malnourished children and, along with a number of African countries, has one of the lowest rates of access to safe drinking water in the world. the “cooling gap” in the region (defined as the share of the population that needs cooling for optimal health and safety and does not have access to it) is the highest in the world, at 92%.
In a world where people matter, threats of this magnitude in a region that is home to one in four people in the world would rightly be seen as a threat to the whole world. It would be taken seriously by every institution with the power to do something about it.
We do not yet live in such a world. We still have to create it.
Hatred in the heat waves
The Government of India, home to almost 1.4 billion people, actively making things worse.
Instead of addressing the root causes of the grave climate threats facing its own people, the government, ruling party and allies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi are focusing on stoking ethno-religious hatred, which raises the possibility of imminent genocide. Within a few years, the fascist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has taken the world’s most populous nominal democracy down a very dangerous path.
The full story of India’s drift into fascism is too long to tell in full, but here are some horrifying examples.
In the state of Assam, the Indian government stripped Muslims and transgender people of their citizenship and put them in concentration camps. At the national level, he passed a law explicitly denying Muslim migrants the right to citizenship by naturalization. Meanwhile, the national government and BJP-led state governments have turned a blind eye as extremists linked to the ruling party have attacked Muslim and Christian places of worship and openly called for genocide.
Other targets of violence and repression in India include Dalits (Hindus who are lowest in the caste hierarchy) – especially Dalit women and girls, who are regularly the target of horrific sexual violence by upper caste Hindu authors, often with impunity.
They also include social and economic justice activists and journalists who expose human rights abuses. In one particularly disturbing case, several respected academics and activists have been charged with sedition. There are growing indications that the evidence against them was fabricated using Pegasus spyware developed by an Israeli company and used by authoritarian governments around the world.
Significantly, the targets of the crackdown also include indigenous land defenders and young climate activists, accused of sedition for daring to question the Indian state’s extractivism.
And here it turns out that the fascism of the Indian state and its extractivism are intertwined.
The Modi government in India supports an extractivist energy model that expands coal production at the expense of the land rights of the Adivasi, or indigenous peoples, in India. The beneficiaries of this extractivist model are big companies like the Adani Group, which has very close political ties to the Modi government.
As climate change intensifies and world opinion turns against fossil fuels, industry groups like these have shown few qualms in backing the outright fascists who support their agenda – and India, like the United States, is no exception.
Washington is looking elsewhere
Here in the United States, we must also focus on our outsized role in creating the global climate crisis that disproportionately threatens South Asia, as well as complicity with fascism in India.
In September 2021President Biden welcomed Prime Minister Modi to the White House.
Far from expressing even the slightest and most symbolic disapproval of gross human rights abuses in India, Biden issued a joint statement with Modi committing both countries to “strengthening democratic values and institutions. This statement even ignored the US government’s own Commission on International Religious Freedom, which warned of the grave threat to religious freedom in India.
Modi’s visit to the White House could have been a meaningless diplomatic formality. But, more likely, it reflects a cynical calculation by the United States to look the other way as the country slides toward open fascism and genocide, preferring instead to secure the country’s cooperation against China and advance the economic interests of multinational corporations. .
As the world’s largest cumulative emitter of greenhouse gases and one of the largest per capita emitters, the United States is also directly responsible for the current heat wave in South Asia, among other severe impacts of the climate change. Despite rhetoric to the contrary from the Biden administration, the United States shows no evidence of slowing emissions.
The United States is the world’s largest producer of oil and gas, and the Biden administration is adding fuel to the fire by continuing to recklessly give away public land for oil and gas drilling (and also reportedly give away water public, but the courts did not let them off the hook). The administration is also using the war in Ukraine as an excuse to plan massive construction of gas export infrastructure, in a pattern of actions that does not match its rhetoric.
For all his platitudes about “listening to science,” the U.S. government is ignoring dire warnings from the IPCC, the International Energy Agency, and UN Secretary General António Guterres.
Speaking of which, what about the United Nations? Shouldn’t he work hard to avoid a global catastrophe? To some extent, the United Nations is doing its job, promoting renewable energy and publishing urgent scientific analysis on the need to move away from fossil fuels.
But it is also institutionally limited by what powerful member states allow it to do. The role of the Saudi government – the world’s second largest oil producer – in undermining language on phasing out fossil fuels in the latest IPCC report provides a stark example of how powerful and wealthy countries have obstructed international climate action.
Power of the base
Many people in India know that they cannot rely on the elites to save them from disaster. But none of this means that there is nothing to do.
After all, this is a country where the largest protest movement in the history of the world has engaged in an epic year-long struggle against agricultural market legislation that would have damaged the livelihoods of farmers in the benefit of agribusinesses. In November 2021, the move forced the government to back down and withdraw the bills. Nor was it a one-time anomaly – it stems from a rich history of grassroots struggle by the most marginalized communities in India.
Our role in the United States is to follow the leadership of movements in South Asia in their fight against both government repression and a global economic and political system that puts fossil fuel profits before their lives.
As climate change worsens and governments around the world continue business as usual, there will inevitably be massive resistance movements in South Asia and elsewhere in the Global South. Those of us in the North owe them our solidarity.
This article was produced in partnership with Foreign Policy In Focus.