Dalit activist Lenin Raghuvanshi gets award for making a ‘difference’
Dr Raghuvanshi will receive the Karmaveer Maharatna Award on 26 November. Turning his back on his upper caste origins, he has been fighting for the human rights for all Indians. In 1996 he founded the People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights, which today has 72,000 members. He is the promoter of a neo-Dalit ideology with which he aspires “to reclaim human dignity”.
New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Lenin Raghuvanshi, an Indian activist fighting against India’s caste system and Dalit discrimination, has won the Karmaveer Maharatna Award for 2019.
The award is given by the International Confederation of NGOs in recognition of people who have impacted society with their noble work as an inspiration and continue to be bring change and make a difference. The award will be presented on 26 November at the Ramagya School in Noida.
Speaking to AsiaNews, Raghuvanshi said that the recognition “is an award for being the voice, body and soul of a nationwide movement for the right to a life of dignity, for my lifelong endeavour to eliminate every form of exploitation of children, women and the socially oppressed and for my committed crusade for the complete abolition of the caste system.”
The 49-year-old activist hails from Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, where he was born into a wealthy, high caste family, which he refers to as "feudal". In light of this, “I could have easily settled down to a complacent and comfortable life,” he says. “But from beginning, I was averse to the caste system. This sprung the seed of social activism in me.”
His life in Uttar Pradesh shaped his desire to defend human rights. “I saw an unequal relationship between men and women, with men being stronger, violent and controlling of women.”
His grandfather was a Gandhian freedom fighter who “wanted me to be a Gandhian,” whilst, “my father wanted me to become a communist. Hence this tussle gave me an exposure to varied shades of opinion since my childhood.”
Eventually he graduated in Ayurveda, modern medicine and surgery, and started working to eliminate discriminatory practices penalising marginalised groups in society. This led him to establish the People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) in 1996 together with his wife Shruti Nagvanshi and other intellectuals.
“I was convinced that, unless Indian society deals with injustices of caste system head-on, it will not attack social conflicts at their root. Translating this into action, I built local, national and regional institutions that challenge the caste system.”
Today his organisation has about 72,000 members, 7,000 of whom victims of torture. He works in Indian slums, where he encourages sponsoring mothers to reduce the number of deaths of infants and pregnant women. He has fought to eliminate cheap forced child labour in mines and defended tribal land rights against forced seizure.
“Five great people influenced my life,” he said. They are “Jesus, the Prophet Muhammad, Karl Marx, Buddha and Dr B. R. Ambedkar. He has taken their “ideologies, along with my struggle as a human rights defender against caste-based discriminations, to shape a new ideology, that of neo-Dalit. I aspire to reclaim human dignity.”
“I and my life partner converted to Buddhism as a protest against the caste system. We are secular in our social life but are very spiritual in our personal life and practise spiritual meditation of different faiths and religions.”
Thinking back about his life, he notes that “I have set sail on a tough, tumultuous and arduous journey all by myself to do good for every wronged and discriminated citizen of India.”
For this reason, the award “is a great honour for our non-violent struggle against the hegemonic masculinity of the caste system and patriarchy. I dedicate this prize to all activists and human rights defenders who are fighting against this”. (A.C.F.)