‘Adieu to a True Friend of The Earth’
On 15 August 2022, Vimal Bhai, a leading environment and peace activist in India who worked with marginalised communities and fought to protect the environment, sadly passed away.
Vimalbhai’s early days with the environmental movement were closely associated with the noted Indian environmentalist, the late Shri Sunder Lal Bahuguna of the Chipko Movement. Vimalbhai, inspired by Bahuguna, ‘worked in constant solidarity with Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) (Movement to Save the River Narmada), over decades’. NBA are a social movement struggling for over 30 years against a number of large dams being built across the Narmada river.
Since the early 1990s, Vimalbhai has played an instrumental role in organising people against destructive mega hydroelectric projects and dams on the River Ganga and many of its tributaries, especially in the Tehri, Garhwal region of Uttarakhand. His contributions were valuable in saving many rivers within the fragile Himalayan ecosystem.
Vimalbhai’s activism was not limited to environmental movements. He also supported the queer rights movement and was well known for participating in queer pride marches in Delhi. In addition, during the Covid-19 pandemic, he became active in the Khori Gaon Struggle, a fight to prevent forced evictions of Khori Gaon residents in the name of forest conservation. Here he spent his time supporting a legal battle for community members’ rehabilitation and due compensation.
Vimalbhai was one of the pillars of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM). He was always at the forefront of any action-oriented initiatives as he believed that change only occurs through people power. He was courageous and known to initiate social and political actions even if no one accompanied him. From the streets to the courtroom, Vimal used every mechanism possible to fight for justice. He filed cases in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and at the Supreme Court of India as he believed in holding institutions and the state accountable. He highlighted flaws in Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) and ensured that they were accessible to all impacted peoples. He used his experiences on the ground to critique policies, and his imprint can be seen in various environmental legislations.
Vimalbhai was a poet, writer and translator. Up until his passing, he remained active in his work for environmental and social justice. He will be remembered for his strength in building meaningful, people-to-people relationships and engaging communities in nature based livelihood options. His four-decade-long fight against destructive development projects played a crucial role in shaping the current Indian environmental movement. He led a fierce resistance to all forms of fascism and worked towards communal harmony. He was vocal for his support of minorities who faced discrimination and violence, and for political prisoners and human rights defenders who were falsey convicted and jailed. His lifetime of activism will be an inspiration for generations to come.
Rest in power, Vimal Bhai.
“We are in shock and disbelief that Vimal Bhai, our co-traveller and a leading activist who worked with marginalised communities as well as to protect the environment, is no longer with us. Throughout his life, he was a true Friend of Mother Earth and fellow beings. Rest in power Vimal bhai!”
-Jibin Robin, Coordinator, Friends of the Earth India
“I knew Vimal Bhai many many years ago and he is one of many persons I remember from India for his kindness and cheerfulness. Always because he was one of the strong warriors who fought against dams. He must be remembered for fighting the good fight. Now it is time for Vimal Bhai to rest. May he now rest in eternal power. He will always be remembered by those of us whose hearts and lives he touched.”
-Theiva Lingam, Legal Advisor to Sahabat Alam Malaysia / Friends of the Earth Malaysia
“As India celebrated her 75th independence day, Vimalbhai, who always fought for asli azaadi (true independence), breathed his last. Vimalbhai’s spirit was always one of love and resistance. He has been a guide, mentor and friend to so many of us. For over 20 years, he encouraged activists like myself. When JA! FoE Mozambique was hosting an anti-dams meeting in Maputo, Vimalbhai got his passport renewed and was about to make the journey. But it was March 2020 and suddenly the pandemic shut down our meetings. Satrangi salaam, Vimalbhai. Revolutionary rainbow greetings to you, today and forever.”
-Dipti Bhatnagar, Climate Justice and Energy Program Coordinator, Friends of the Earth International, previously an activist with the Narmada Bachao Andolan
“This is a great loss. I have worked with Vimalbhai. I know he supported many advocacies of the environmental groups in India and some legal fights. We will miss him. May his soul rest in power!”
-Hemantha Withanage, Chair of Friends of the Earth International