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The giant of India’s environmental movement

India
Darryl D'monte credit: Mumbai First (www.youtube.com/watch?v=6HmyC3nyVLA)

In September 2000, a journalist from Mumbai began investigating an indigenous resistance movement against bauxite mining in India’s Orissa state. Darryl D’Monte’s commitment galvanised his position as one of India’s most prominent environmental reporters.

He helped transform the Times of India from ‘a stuffy institution to a liberal, non-statist paper with an ear to the ground,’ his colleague Bachi Karkaria says.

‘It was a complete change from the old echo-chamber journalism, where editors lived in ivory towers.’

When D’Monte first began reporting from the mining areas in the early 2000s, Achyut Das, a long-time supporter of the communities under attack by aluminium corporations, warned D’Monte that the region had become a conflict zone. Still, D’Monte probed deeper, reporting from Kashipur, where he was violently attacked by mine supporters and warned not to print his stories.

D’Monte, a giant of India’s environmental movement, passed away after an illness on 16 March.

‘Darryl taught us that we get it on the front page of the paper, not just on an environment page. He was the first to tell us you could write about toilets and manual scavenging; we spent a day talking about nothing but shit.’

A man of principle

Generations of journalists joined D’Monte’s family to honour the pioneer of environmental journalism at the Mumbai Press Club. Journalist Keya Acharya said D’Monte, who was a founder member in 1988 of the Forum of Environmental Journalists in India, gave reporters confidence to write about ecological issues.

‘He encouraged any journalist who showed interest in writing on [the] environment. He would make sure the person was given some part or involvement in any environmental project he was working on,’ Acharya said.

‘Darryl taught us that we get it on the front page of the paper, not just on an environment page. He was the first to tell us you could write about toilets and manual scavenging; we spent a day talking about nothing but shit.’

D’Monte walked the talk. Despite coming from a prominent Mumbai family, he took the train to work to reduce car pollution. He challenged Indian society – during his tenure as the Times of India Sunday Magazine editor from 1969 to 1979, he recruited Dileep Padgaonkar to guest-edit an issue entirely devoted to Dalit literature. And he was deeply involved in civil society, serving on, among others, the advisory committee of the Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India.

Salil Tripathi, author of Offence: The Hindu Case, remembers D’Monte as ‘an outstanding journalist of integrity and compassion, who cared deeply for the environment and the city – generous and warm, he set the standard by which journalists should be judged.’

Looking to the future

D’Monte’s passing has also left some fearful for the future of the environmental movement he helped mould.

Author and natural scientist Jayanta Bandyopadhyay knew D’Monte for about four decades. ‘As the members of the old guards and protectors for environment and human dignity pass away one after the other, we need new plantations to take roots,’ he says.

Achyut Das, who founded Agragamee, an NGO advocating culturally-sensitive and ecologically-balanced development for Orissa’s indigenous groups, said D’Monte was a passionate defender of environmental justice and affected communities.

‘Whether our younger generation is adequately aware of the state of environment or not is a big question,’ Das says.

‘All over the world social and environmental movements are getting lost [to] corporate designs.’

New Internationalist issue 519 magazine cover This article is from the May-June 2019 issue of New Internationalist.
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