Standing up For Human Rights
“I am because of others”
My name is Pushpanath Krishnamurthy and I am a climate activist and humanitarian. I am originally from South India and grew up in Bangalore. I was very fortunate in my early childhood. My father had a successful coffee business and also worked in the air force during the war. Coffee was a lucrative trade at this time and he ended up making a lot of money.
However, one day this all came to a sudden end after the business went bankrupt. My father disappeared and we were forced to leave the big house for a much smaller and simple abode. While this was somewhat adventurous, the increased financial pressure upon the family quickly forced me to become a working child. I grew up in the town and worked hard. I remember feeling so hungry.
Despite this, I was a curious and adventurous child. I would run around and look to discover buildings, such as temples. I particularly enjoyed temples, as I would be given sweets and I learned more about Hindu teachings.
While the financial pressures upon the family also meant that I had periods of missing school, this all changed when the government introduced a policy of allowing schooling without fees. I was grateful to take advantage of this and be able to attend a state school. Following this, I was able to secure a scholarship to study agriculture. I was always quite successful in school. I think that being a street child makes you smart. For example, I had always been a good story-teller and an effective communicator. However, I also recognise that I only had this opportunity because of the lack of fees.
Following this, my life really changed when I secured a job working for the bank. Despite hundreds of thousand people applying, I was one of the 25 people who were successful. Working at the bank was something that I enjoyed because it allowed me to work with the poorest people. I think there is something special about supporting the underdog.
Although it may seem crazy to leave the security of this job, my life took another turn after I discovered Oxfam after they were offering support following a serious drought. After discovering more about the charity, I ended up working for Oxfam across South India. Despite Oxfam’s amazing work, I wanted to change their perspective and move beyond being just a white person’s charity. I encouraged them to go to parts of Southern Africa that they had not been to before and I was fortunate enough to be a direct part of this.
My role was wide ranging and would commonly involve supporting local organisations. For me, everyone should have a right to life and livelihood, encompassing things like education. I certainly would not have reached Oxfam if I had not received education.
When I first started working for Oxfam, I wanted to jump on every injustice and fight every battle but I soon learnt that this approach wasn’t sustainable. Oxfam’s work is about helping to prepare people to fight their own battles. I love this about my job and it’s one of the important things that brings me happiness in life.
My family has played a big part in my work and my wife is central to helping to manage my madness. She has also sacrificed a lot. Notably, she gave up her job at the bank to come to Africa with me. The benefits of travel cannot be understated. I feel like I was born again in Africa and my wife was inspired to become a teacher because of this trip. I also learned a lot from my time in Zambia, which was then the home of the anti-apartheid movement. The dance, music and overall sense of freedom also made the experience very special.
My time at Oxfam also emphasised the importance of systemic change and I gradually got more into campaigning. While no campaign is life-long, it does take a long time to bring people out of poverty.
I have undertaken various campaigns through walks. In 2009, I undertook the ‘Walk for Climate Justice from Oxford to Copenhagen to help raise awareness around climate change. Additionally, in 2012, I walked in the UK to promote Oxfam’s ‘Grow campaign’ around the importance of fair trade. This was a special experience as it allowed me to share the stories of Indian farmers. Overall, it has been a decade since my first walk to Copenhagen and I have managed to complete over 31 million steps and reach more than 400,000 people directly. This includes lawyers, teachers, farmers and local associations. I am so grateful to have connected with so many people.
However, the most important campaign moving forward is the need to protect the climate. The effects of climate change are hitting the poorest the first and the hardest. In particular, women in poorer regions are already suffering. We needed to act yesterday not tomorrow. I have found that community action in the UK has been limited, so I have decided to walk from London to Glasgow for COP26. This is not about me, I am merely a vehicle for helping to spread awareness. Other individuals have also had success in spreading awareness. None more so than Greta Thunberg who has helped to revolutionise our attitudes towards climate change. There will always be opposition to the changes that are needed to fight climate change because this will result in certain people losing their privilege. However, seeing the work of individuals like Greta gives me motivation that positive change can happen.
There is so much change that I want to see in the world. We need to invest in green technologies and we need people to pay their fare share in tax.
While these injustices continue to make me uncomfortable, I am so grateful for the journey that I have been on. If I was born again, I would like to be born in the same place and undertake the same journey. I have no regrets.