ASIA: Two outstanding rights defenders from India awarded regional prize

(Hong Kong, May 2, 2007) Two persons fighting for human rights in different parts of India were awarded a prestigious regional human rights prize on Monday.

The 2007 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights went jointly to Lenin Raghuvanshi for his resistance to caste-based discrimination in the country’s north and Irom Sharmila for her resistance to the indiscriminate use of military force against civilians in the northeast.

Raghuvanshi leads the People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), which has over 50,000 members working against caste discrimination and torture across five states.

The Korean awarding committee said that Raghuvanshi had brought hope back to thousands of bonded labourers and those suffering human rights abuses due to India’s caste system, especially Dalits.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), which has worked closely with the PVCHR for a number of years, congratulated Raghuvanshi on his receipt of the award.

“Dr Lenin and his colleagues are tackling deep feudal practices that go back thousands of years and require immense dedication and effort to be eliminated, as they must if human rights and democracy are ever to have any meaning in India,” Basil Fernando, executive director of the Hong Kong-based regional rights group, said.

“We have no doubt that he is a very worthy recipient of this award and that it will contribute much to his further efforts,” Fernando said.

Raghuvanshi has been acknowledged for his work as a social changemaker by the international Ashoka Fellowship.

His co-recipient, Irom Sharmila, has conducted a hunger strike for the abolition of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the northeastern states since a massacre in Manipur during 2000. She is being detained at the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, where she is force-fed by drip.

“They both have fought for the same noble cause of the advancement of human rights and social justice, yet they still have a long way to go. The Gwangju Prize for Human Rights will boost their further struggles,” the May 18 Memorial Foundation said in announcing the award recipients.

A ceremony to present the award will be held in Gwangju on May 18.

Previous recipients have included Basil Fernando, Jayanthi Dandeniya, the coordinator of the Families of the Disappeared in Sri Lanka, and the chairperson of the Working Group on Justice for Peace in Thailand, Angkhana Neelaphaijit.