On the eve of Human Rights Day, ActionAid Association felicitated community-based human rights defenders from across the country. These are exceptional individuals and organisations who have been making strong interventions in different geographies across India on a wide range of issues, including child rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights, land rights, Dalit rights, minority rights, tribal rights and to promote ecological justice.
Prominent amongst those awarded is Bapatla Sathyayathamma, who is a yanadi tribal woman from Nellore, In Andhra Pradesh. The Yanadi community is one of the most vulnerable tribal groups in India and they face extreme poverty and social exclusion. Bapatla emerged, as a powerful voice of resistance, twenty-five years ago. She has helped yanadi households reclaim land, build houses, create irrigation facilities and developing health assistance programmes in the region. Bapatla is the President of Tribal Women Fisheries Cooperative in the district and also the Vice-President of District Yanadi Samkhya, a coalition of Yanadi tribals.
Tseten Lepcha from Chungthang, North Sikkim, was also felicitated. Tseten is a founding member and working president of the Affected Citizens of Teesta, an organization of the indigenous Sikkimese citizens to protect the land and people from the threat to the Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve. He has passionately advocated against the implementation of various hydro projects in Sikkim in order to protect land belonging to indigenous people.
Sangeeta an acid attack survivor from Allahabad and her work was also celebrated. In order to mainstream survivors of acid attacks and provide them with a safe and healthy work environment, Sangeeta started the Orange Café in Varanasi, along with other acid attack survivors. Unfortunately the COVID pandemic hit India and lockdown was declared shortly after the opening. Despite the unprecedented circumstances, Sangeeta and her partners continued to cook food and provided it to migrant workers stranded in the city and those travelling back to their home towns. They also helped distribute ration kits, masks and sanitizers to over 35,000 workers.
The work of Gujjar Samaj Kalyan Sabha was recognized at the event. A community-based organization, formed in the year 1998 in Himachal Pradesh, the organisation seeks to resolve problems faced by the nomadic Gujjar community. During COVID pandemic the organization has advocated with the government and ensured the movement of Gujjar families in hilly areas.
The event was graced with the presence of Ms Maja Daruwala, of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, and Shri Rajgopal P V, Ekta Parishad. Speaking on the occaision Sandeep Chachra, Executive Director, ActionAid Association said, “As an organization committed to advance social and ecological justice, and as one working at the grassroots together with social formations, community organisations and leaders in communities in over 22 states for over the last nearly five decades, ActionAid Association has had the privilege of recognizing the fundamental work done by community-based defenders of rights and social justice. We have witnessed how their leadership has created great advances in building a better world for all, and particularly the marginalized communities. We remain committed to supporting the continued efforts and vision of all community-based human rights defenders. Human Rights Day is a significant occasion to offer our solidarity in spirit and substance.”
The felicitation ceremony was preceded by a panel discussion on the role of media and artists in promoting a culture of rights and justice to make social democracy stronger in India. Sanjay Kapoor, the editor of Hardnews, and the current General Secretary, Editors Guild of India, Bhasha Singh, an independent journalist and writer, currently with NewsClick, Rahul Ram, musician with Indian Ocean and social activist, and Mohd Ali Shah, actor and former soldier, participated in this stimulating discussion.