No Child’s Play: The Controversial Life of Eight-Year-Old Activist Licypriya Kangujam

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No Child’s Play: The Controversial Life of Eight-Year-Old Activist Licypriya Kangujam

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

“Please don’t celebrate me if you are not going to listen [to] my voice.”

That’s a bold statement for an eight-year-old to make. Manipur’s Licypriya Kangujam caught the attention of mainstream news publications over the weekend after she refused the government’s invitation to join the Prime Minister’s #SheInspiresUs social media campaign on Women’s Day. And she didn’t stop there. She even took on the Congress party for reducing her to a Twitter campaign after it praised her for turning down the Centre. But who is this child and why does she find herself in the centre of a controversy right now? 

Last year, the young environmental activist from Manipur spent weeks in front of Parliament House with a placard, urging the Prime Minister and his MPs to pass a climate change law to control and regulate carbon emissions. She reportedly dropped out of school, travelling within the country and the world over, for multiple environment projects.   

As a very young girl with a voice and an agenda to present, Kangujam has been compared to Sweden’s Greta Thunberg for campaigning against climate change, something that she does not appreciate. “If you call me Greta of India, you are not covering my story. I have my own identity…” she told the BBC. According to Kangujam, she started campaigning two years ago at the age of six, much before Thunberg. 

Kangujam claims that part of her fight is to ensure that climate change is added to curricula in schools across India. After Rajasthan, she told the BBC, the state of Gujarat will be the second in the country to agree to educate children on the climate crisis.

The child might be a pawn in a campaign that her father started.

At the World Economic Forum earlier this year, alongside activists Greta Thunberg, Luisa Neubauer, Isabelle Axelsson, and Loukina Tille, Licypriya also published a letter calling out global industries and governments at the forefront of climate change to immediately stop funding fossil fuels, asking that they act now. In an article in The Guardian, they emphasised, “Short-term profit should not trump long-term stability of life.”

That is quite a fight for an eight-year-old, and it should come as no surprise that she was nominated by the PM. But now allegations have surfaced that claim some of Kangujam’s achievements might have been exaggerated. And that the child might be a pawn in a campaign that her father started.  

In a Twitter thread on Sunday, political activist and founder of an NGO, Angellica Aribam, pointed out that not everything that Kangujam claimed was correct. Last year, news of the girl being invited to UN headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, to address a “global UN session” for Disaster Risks Reduction made the rounds on social media and was published by several media houses. However, Manipur’s Imphal Free Press (IFP) reported that the news was false. 

The deceptive story was originally sourced from International Youth Committee (IYC), an organisation that lists Kangujam Kanarjit aka Dr KK Singh (Kangujam’s father) as its chairman. The man has a dodgy reputation – he was arrested in 2015 over charges of “fraud, assault and criminal breach of trust”.  

Kangujam, of course, is only eight and cannot be held accountable for the conduct of her family.

Licypriya’s profile earlier mentioned that she had won the “Peace Award” by the Global Peace Index. But when former journalist Kumar Manish got in touch with the organisation, it clarified that they do not give out such an award. The “Indian Peace Prize” that the young activist bagged was handed out by a committee chaired by her father and the “APJ Kalam Award” could be traced to a “Khwaab Foundation” which seems to have no online presence.  

Kangujam, of course, is only eight and cannot be held accountable for the conduct of her family or for the claims that she has made. Her Twitter account is run by her “guardian”, after all. Journalists and activists have alleged that it is her father who has been making all the fraudulent claims. 

All of which teaches us one lesson. We waste no time in turning child activists into heroes. But sometimes, maybe we need to pause… and run an old-fashioned fact check. 

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