Meet Kinkri Devi – the environmentalist from Himachal Pradesh who fought against limestone quarrying in Sirmaur district. Witnessing the immense environmental damage cause due to quarrying, Kinkri Devi chose to speak up and took the mine owners to court. This is her story.
“When ideas and opinions turn into action
Beautiful transformations unfold”
Many of us are deeply connected to a particular belief, an idea, or a place. And there are some who make sure that these connections last forever. Kinkri Devi was one such person who had this profound connection with her motherland and the environment.
Born in Ghaton Village of Himachal Pradesh in 1925, she noticed the extensive environmental degradation taking place in her district over the years.
Kinkri Devi was born in a poor family. Her father was a subsistence farmer and she started working as a servant when she was a child. At the young age of 14, she was married to Shyamu Ram, who was a bonded labourer. Then, at the age of 22, she became a widow and started working as a sweeper to make ends meet. In spite of not knowing how to read and write, she was the one who educated the masses about the environment, and raised concerns about the effects of uncontrolled mining.
Limestone quarrying was a big business in Sirmaur district, especially after the forced closure of Doon Valley quarries in 1985. Extensive quarrying caused contamination of water bodies, degradation of agricultural land, and reduction of forest areas. Kinkri Devi, who never got the opportunity to acquire a formal education, raised her voice and was one of the major forces behind creating environmental awareness against quarrying.
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She initiated her fight by creating awareness at the local level. And finally, in 1987, she filed a PIL with the support of a local voluntary group called People’s Action for People in Need, in Shimla High Court. The litigation was against 48 mine owners on the ground of irresponsible limestone quarrying. When she got no response on the PIL, she travelled to Shimla and undertook a 19 day hunger strike in front of the court. Her fight was successful and the court imposed a blanket ban on blasting the hills, and a stay on mining.
The case was reopened in the Supreme Court, but the noble cause initiated by Kinkri Devi was unstoppable. Supreme Court’s decision in 1995 was again in her favour.
She was recognised as a prominent environmentalist on the international front, and was invited to attend the International Women Conference in Beijing in 1995. There, Mrs. Hillary Clinton asked her to light the lamp at the inaugural function. She was honoured with the Jhansi Ki Rani Lakshmi Bai Stree Shakti Puraskar in 1999.
Kinkri Devi was an undaunted activist. She also initiated a movement to open a degree college in Sangrah village where she had spent most of her life. The opening of the college in 2006 is another proof that actions backed by a strong motive always create a difference.
She died at the age of 82, in the year 2007. Her journey was remarkable, and she left behind the footprints of awareness.