At age eight, Licypriya Kangujam from Manipur has become the face of climate change activism in India. Known as India's youngest climate activist, Licy got the opportunity to attend the third Asia Ministerial Conference for Disaster Risks reduction 2018 (AMCDRR 2018) in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia at just the age of six. From then on, life has not been the same for Licy.
"My life changed when I got the opportunity to speak at the conference," little Licy tells News18. "It was the first time I got to raise my voice to world leaders and draw their attention toward the climate crisis".
From receiving the honorary Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Children's Award to a World Children Peace Prize as well as an India Peace Prize, Licy's resolve against environmental hazards and her dedicated agitation for climate action has not only earned her a name but also respect in the fraternity.
Licy says that the media attention her accolades have brought has helped her highlight her cause. But there is a particular aspect of the publicity that she does not care for - being called "India's Greta".
Despite her continual efforts to create space for young and diverse climate activists from across the world, young Licy feels that the media often strips young activists of their indigenous identities, especially people of colour or those with less privilege.
“What some media houses are doing is very wrong. Every activist in the world have their own country, own journey, own struggle, own story and own identity. When media portrays our name wrongly, it creates lots of controversy in our movement, Licy tells News18.
The young Manipuri activist recently took to Twitter to express the feeling of loss of identity that such comparisons invariably bring. She asked people to stop referring to her as India's Greta because she wasn't doing her "activism to look like Greta Thunberg."
She further said, "We have common goals but I have my own identity, story. I began my movement since July 2018 even before Greta was started."
Dear Media,Stop calling me “Greta of India”. I am not doing my activism to looks like Greta Thunberg. Yes, she is one of our Inspiration & great influencer. We have common goal but I have my own identity, story. I began my movement since July 2018 even before Greta was started. pic.twitter.com/3UEqCVWYM8— Licypriya Kangujam (@LicypriyaK) January 27, 2020
I first raised my voice to world leaders in Mongolia 🇲🇳 in an UN event in July 4, 2018. Since then I started my movement called “Child Movement”. In Hindi, we called it “Bachpan Andolan” to call our world leaders to take immediate climate action. pic.twitter.com/79IQzQm2Sn— Licypriya Kangujam (@LicypriyaK) January 27, 2020
Greta Thunberg, of course, needs to introduction. The 16-year-old climate change activist became a household face after she started sitting outside the Swedish Parliament with her signature placard that said 'Strike for Climate Change'. Greta's solo rprotest drew the eyes of the entire world and within a year, 'Strike for Climate Change' became an international phenomenon in which thousands of children and adults took part. Greta has since been invited to speak at iimportant events in front of world leaders and even TIME Face of the Year 2019.
Licy points out that she started her activism in 2018 as well, in fact even before Greta became famous. But when she looked herself up on Google, she found no mentions of her name.
While Licy appreciates Greta's work, she blames the media for creating an 'imbalance' between climate activists by stereotyping Greta as the face of climate activism and merging all other identities with hers.
"When Greta began her movement, she had wide media coverage and support. So she could attract global attention in very short period of time, given that climate change is already a pressing issue,” she said. The 8-year-old feels that media in her country was not even half as active in covering its own climate warriors. "Indian media are more focused on politics rather than such global issues. And also they underestimate local activists," Licy tells News18.
Licy had been part of the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP25, where Greta's speech to world leaders became international news. Licy also addressed world leaders there and even met Greta and discussed ideas with her. However, she found no mention of it on Indian media.
Much like Greta, Licy also dropped out of school to protest climate change. While Greta was 15 at the time, Licy was only seven. And yet, Indian media continued to "ignore" her.
She even took to Twitter to write about this neglect.
As I felt my work is more important than the organisation, I have less publicity and media coverage. Only media came to notice me when I spend a week in front of the Parliament House of India on July 21, 2019. Before that also, I began my Parliament Movement since Feb. 2, 2019.— Licypriya Kangujam (@LicypriyaK) January 27, 2020
I even dropped out my school since February 2019 (before Grade 1 final exam) when I was just 7 years old due to my protests every week in front of the Parliament House of India. I sacrificed so much of my life in this tender age is not to called me “Greta of India”.— Licypriya Kangujam (@LicypriyaK) January 27, 2020
Such coverage not only disheartens activists individually but also the shared relationship and camaraderie between activists working in different spheres and countries.
"Greta and I have a mutual respect and understanding as good friends, but because of such media stories with the headline referring me as “Greta of India”, I feel shy to meet her," she said, adding, "It creates an imbalance in our mutual respect, as such comparison goes on to establish that someone is higher than the other."
With the government and local authorities turning a deaf ear to her venture and effects, Licy feels that the constant comparison with Greta may also be having and adverse affect on her own activism, diluting the impact of her demands on many climate change policies by Indian leaders.
In a powerful post on Twitter, Licy recently said that by calling her 'Greta of India', others were not "covering" her story but "deleting" it.
If you call me “Greta of India”, you are not covering my story. You are deleting a story.— Licypriya Kangujam (@LicypriyaK) January 27, 2020
Nevertheless, the little girl says she will continue to tirelessly work for climate action and refuses to be tagged as "someone else's venture".
"We can’t make our leaders to listen to our voices. They already ignored us and they are still ignoring. The best way to educate our leaders is through their own children and grand children by making climate change as a compulsory subject in the school curriculum," Licy concludes.
The 8-year-old, however, knows that the road ahead is not easy and losing her identity at such a tender age may just be one of the many roadblocks in her mission to make Earth sustainable.