Through the course of this writing, I reconnected with women who, like me, have experience working with riverine communities as facilitators, researchers, activists, storytellers, and friends. Going back to our work and shared experiences helped us to reflect on how we have encountered the issue of mental well-being amongst women affected by climate change, which is otherwise sidelined to make room for more ‘urgent’ physical catastrophes.
Minket Lepcha, from Darjeeling, has been working in the Transboundary Rivers of Mahakali (Ganga) and the Brahmaputra for over 10 years, first as a filmmaker (Voices of Teesta) and now as a storyteller. She shared how as an indigenous woman herself, she felt that the medium of storytelling was easier to connect with and understand the soul of the rivers, issues of climate change, and the lives circling the rivers from the perspectives of the women themselves. This medium of storytelling and coming together has been a source of therapy and solidarity for women who face both physical and mental adversities as a consequence of climatic impacts.
Discourses on climate change can often be restricted to academic, scientific, and political platforms. Vulnerable communities and people who bear the brunt of climate change, displacement, and climate-induced disasters end up as data figures and objects of studies. In this complexity of work on climate change, we fail to humanise the local people and stories, and personal and collective narratives become case studies in reports and publications.
Studies are derived through a process of data collection, questionnaires, and carefully-curated indicators – such as level of rainfall, change in cropping patterns, and so on – all of which are driven by numbers and pre-determined assumptions. Almost always, the dominant issues of concern are measured in terms of physical casualties and tangible damages to property and infrastructure. This, unfortunately, leaves out the voices and perspectives of local communities, especially of women.