Why this group is seeing red
A group formed by Extreme Rebellion's Mumbai chapter is turning to die-ins and mimes on the city's streets to make Mumbaikars awaken to climate change
On Diwali day this year, eight members of the Red Saree Brigade (RSB) were on the streets of Andheri Lokhandwala and Versova beach at the break of dawn. They made live statue formations on streets littered with the previous night's firework waste and held die-in assemblies on the rocks by the beach to highlight the pollution caused by firecrackers.
RSB is a protest movement inspired by London's Red Brigade that made its first political protests during the Iraq War in 2001. As with the mother outfit, members of RSB also wear shades of crimson and engage in acts of civil disobedience. The group formed by the Mumbai chapter of Extinction Rebellion (XR) performs mimes and acts in popular public spaces.
Mumbai-based XR member and activist Rayyan says that the movement doesn't have leaders, and what's important instead are their demands. "We'd like not just citizens but also governments and corporations to act now. And we want everyone to tell us the truth—which means the media and the government have to explain and put into perspective what's happening. Why, for instance, we are facing droughts and floods simultaneously," he says. Rayyan, who goes by his first name, adds that they don't intend to start a new movement but rather bring together existing groups.
To do this, they are reaching out to NGOs and locals, making sure their messaging is bilingual and ensuring citizen assemblies happen. The last of which can be difficult, as they discovered. The day after the Aarey protests, the police moved the venue for XR's die-in assembly to protest the felling of trees from the Bandra Reclamation promenade to a nondescript parking lot nearby.
"The idea of a die-in assembly is to pretend to be dead in a populated space and get conversation started with passersby. The point of that protest was defeated, more so, when the police asked us to refrain from talking about the cutting of the trees," he says. "The more we do things, the less are the chances we get permissions."
As a workaround, Rayyan says they occasionally try and gather in groups of no more than four. "We try and keep things creative. On one Sunday we blocked traffic at Shivaji Park for about 10 minutes to get our message across. Then we went our way."
Unlike the other leaderless movement, Occupy Wall Street, that was criticised for lacking clear goals or offering solutions, XR India is preparing a detailed document in consultation with experts and setting realistic targets to control pollution.
"The idea is to present the document to the government, offer solutions and work with them to execute it. We've gone past the time when you could give up meat or use public transport and pat yourself on the back for having made the effort to save the planet. Now is the time for more drastic actions."
"You can follow Extinction Rebellion Mumbai on social media and respond to our callouts. We often have open meetings on weekends where you can get introduced to the various things we do and decide what working groups within the movement you want to be part of. That's a good place to start."
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