05/07/2007, 00.00

2007 Gwangju Prize goes to Indian social activist

by Nirmala Carvalho
Lenin Raghuvanshi will receive the 2007 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights on 18 May. Just 37, this man has already made a significant contribution to the struggle for respect for the dignity of all marginalized people, especially Dalits.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The 2007 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights has been awarded to Indian Social Activists. Thirty-seven-year-old Lenin Raghuvanshi will receive the Gwangju Prize on 18 May. Speaking to AsiaNews, he said: “It is an honour for me to be the co-recipient of this award with Irom Sharmila, whose commitment to human rights has always inspired me. What’s more, it will be given to me on my birthday.”

Raghuvanshi continued: “Over the years, I have been very involved in and worried about the situation of marginalized children. In 1993, with Swani Agnivesh, I founded the Bachapan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement) and in 1996 the People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) was born to reeducate children who were forced to work.”

Lenin Raghuvanshi has become a symbol for millions of Dalits fighting for their dignity in India. His approach to the struggle constantly puts the person at the centre and urges respect for the human dignity of all people belonging to India’s lowest castes.

The work of Lenin Raghuvanshi marks a shift in the Indian movement for human rights; he is one of a relatively few activists who insist that caste-based discrimination goes against democratic principles. In Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh – one of the most traditionalist, conservative and segregationist regions in India – Lenin, with a few resources but plenty of confidence and determination, has managed within a short time to bring the problems facing marginalized people to national and international attention.

In 2004, to give voice to those who are marginalized, the Jan Mitra Gaon’ was born, also known as ‘People-friendly village’. This is a pilot project in which Lenin adopted three villages and a slum, where plans include reopening an elementary school, abolishing forced labour, making education for girls obligatory and spreading non-traditional education. There is no elementary education in vast rural areas but the PVCHR has opened educational centres for children in 45 villages.

“Thanks to the intervention of the PVCHR before international and national fora,” says Raghuvanshi, “we have managed to put hunger on the agenda of government priorities.”

Lenin has faced several obstacles from state and society. On 17 July 1996 paramilitary forces subjected him to a severe beating during a demonstration for Dalits and child laborers and for the land allotment of Gram Sabha in favour of landless Dalits. Amnesty International drew attention to this assault.

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