South Asian climate collective Sapna wins Environment Vic award

Sapna has won an Innovation award for bringing new insights to climate justice which are missing from the mainstream climate movement.

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Sapna – South Asian Climate Solidarity, a South Asian-led climate justice collective has received an Innovation Award at this year’s Environment Victoria community environment awards ceremony, held on Thursday night.

The award recognises their report published in October 2022, ‘Why North-South Intersectionality Matters in Climate Justice’, which draws on interviews from 12 young South Asian climate activists to highlight the need for Australian climate activism to be inclusive of migrant voices.

Dr Ruchira Talukdar, Co-Founder and Director of Sapna, says the award is affirming for multicultural climate advocacy.

“I like that the report and the work [we do] is being acknowledged as innovative. The dream is for Sapna’s work to be recognised as creating a new understanding, but also telling stories about communities in ways not done before in the white climate movement space,” she says.

Sapna at award night Environment Vic
Award night (Source: X)

Sapna seeks to create a just future for South Asian and Indigenous populations, whose divergent experiences of climate impacts are often overlooked.

“[Traditional] campaigning is singular in focus – ‘stop coal’ – and tailors stories for that singular aim,” Dr Talukdar says. “But we know as activists from South Asia that for our communities, everything is intricately connected with the land, which is why we have to go beyond the singular focus of coal vs renewables.”

Sharing stories on the impacts of climate change on South Asian communities and South Asian activism such as the Chipko and Narmada movements, Sapna seeks to shift the narrative surrounding the global South.

Dr Ruchira Talukdar founder of Sapna
Dr Ruchira Talukdar

“We desire to honour and connect with the resilience and the incredible imagination and ingenuity of our communities,” says Dr Talukdar. “They’re not just poor people struggling, who need to be saved.”

Environment Victoria CEO Jono LaNause is proud to confer the award on the South Asian Climate collective Sapna, and highlights the importance of recognising underrepresented perspectives within the climate movement.

“Human society will only succeed in tackling climate change if everyone is involved, yet so many Australian environmental organisations have failed to engage with multicultural communities,” he says.

“We are delighted to recognise the leadership of Sapna in highlighting the intersections of climate justice and South Asian communities and building relationships between those communities and the wider environmental movement.”

south asian climate activists in australia
A Sapna meeting (Source: Supplied)

Dr Talukdar says her passion for intersectional activism stems from the 20 years she’s spent working in India and Australia, within major climate campaigners such as Greenpeace and the Australian Conservation Foundation.

“When Julia Gillard’s carbon tax was going through, and everyone was out rallying against Tony Abbott, I didn’t see a single person of colour in the sea of protesters,” she remembers. “It got me thinking, where are my people?”

Founded during the pandemic, the Sapna network consists of 30 South Asians of various backgrounds and ages located across Australia.

“There were quite a few intergenerational South Asian climate activists who just wanted a space for themselves, so we got together during lockdown; in the beginning it was a lot of painting and talking,” Dr Talukdar says.

“When I started sharing stories about the rich history of environmental movements in India, it was like glue for us. The young South Asians born in Australia felt it was part of their legacy, something they were missing.”

Sapna translates from Hindi as ‘dream’, and the collective have a strong vision for international climate solidarity.

“Instead of the doomsday scrolling we do about climate impacts in the global south, we’re about vibrant futures for communities,” says Dr Talukdar.

“Our ‘sapna’ is to grow a multicultural organisation which shows the [mainstream] climate movement in Australia how things can be done differently, with culture and stories.”

Read Sapna‘s award-winning report here

Find out more about Sapna – South Asian Climate Solidarity via their website.

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Lakshmi Ganapathy
Lakshmi Ganapathy
Lakshmi Ganapathy is an emerging journalist and theatre-maker based in Melbourne.

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