On December 14, 2022, ActionAid Association organised an event to celebrate community-based human rights defenders from across states working with the most marginalised communities and promoting social and ecological justice. Several exceptional individuals and the organisations they represent were felicitated at the meeting held on the occasion of Human Rights Day at India International Centre, New Delhi. The programme was graced by Shri Devendra Kumar Singh IAS, Secretary General, National Human Rights Commission; Dr Lalitha Kumaramangalam, Former Chairperson, National Commission for Women; Dr Shantha Sinha, Former Chairperson, National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights; and Shri Shivaji SarjeraoDhavale, Chairperson, Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority.
The organisations honoured during the programme were Eklavya Sanghtna and Manavi Haq Abhiyan from Maharashtra. The individuals awarded on the occasion included Arun Housrao Jadhav, Bajrang Sahebrao Tate (Maharashtra), C Anand Raj (Tamil Nadu), Chandrika BT (Karnataka), Gamchi Timre R Marak (Meghalaya), Hari Singh Meravi (Madhya Pradesh), Jayshree Janjar (Gujarat), Kadudas Haribhau Kamble (Maharashtra), Kanchan Bala (Bihar), KhimaJethi (Uttarakhand), Laxmi Solanki (Madhya Pradesh), Manas Ranjan Pradhan (Odisha), Pepa Ram (Rajasthan), Rizwan Saifi (Uttar Pradesh), Sharddha Kashyap (Madhya Pradesh), Subhash Kanchukatla (Telangana), Sunil Minj (Jharkhand), Sunita Eknath Bhosale (Maharashtra) and Vijiaya Nicholas (Tamil Nadu).
Shri Devendra Kumar Singh commended ActionAid Association’s initiative of felicitating community-based human rights defenders. He appreciated the “grit and determination” shown by these community leaders honoured at the programme, adding that they are“the real leaders at the grassroots level”. Dr Lalitha Kumaramangalam stated, “However many times I congratulate these human rights defenders, it is not enough”. She urged them to continue their work unitedly and fearlessly. Talking about the environment and the energy in the meeting hall, Dr Shantha Sinha shared, “I have attended at least 50 meetings in this room. It never had foot soldiers”. She further emphasised that if human rights are not there, there is no democracy. “You are the hope for the country’s democracy, for justice, and the world,” she stated. Shri Shivaji Sarjerao Dhavale shared that “Eklavya Sanghtna, the organisation I am associated with, has been honoured today, and I am honoured to be invited on the stage today. I have been inspired by all the stories of struggles I have heard today.” Sandeep Chachra, Executive Director of ActionAid Association, said, “I want to singularly express the deepest sense of gratitude to each one of you,” mentioning that the community-based human rights defenders inspire our societies at large and that we all must continue to build solidarities. He also discussed the need for legislation or policy to protect human rights defenders.
These human rights defenders have been making vital interventions in different geographies on a wide range of issues, including children’s rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights, land rights, Dalit rights, minority rights, tribal rights, and to advance ecological justice.