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From Fighting Child Marriage to Acid Attacks: Meet 6 Inspiring Human Rights Activists from India

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We are all born to live, but there are millions amongst us who are robbed of their right to lead a dignified life. This International Human Rights Day, let’s take a look at the work of seven Indian human rights activists who have made a positive difference in people’s lives through their efforts.

1. Kirti Bharti

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Photo Source: A Mighty Girl/Facebook

This 29-year-old activist has stopped 900 child marriages in the last four years and annulled 150 marriages involving underage boys and girls. A resident of Rajasthan, Kirti Bharti has dedicated her life to protecting helpless children whose families force them into marriage at a young age. She founded Saarthi Trust in 2012, a non-profit organization that protects victims of child marriages. Over the year, Kirti has received several death threats from villagers, caste councils and local politicians because of the nature of her work and the fact that many in the state still practice honour killings. A 2014 UNICEF report states that 47% of India’s girls are married before the age of 18. This heinous practice, a byproduct of a patriarchal society, has been going on even after the Indian government passed the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006. Kirti is a rehabilitation psychologist and has worked with countless children who have been traumatized due to their childhood experiences.

2. Ashok Row Kavi

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Photo Source: UAA Safezon/Facebook

Dubbed as the father of India’s gay community, Ashok Row Kavi has been at the forefront of Indian gay rights movement since the 1980s. The 69-year-old began his career in journalism in 1974 with The Indian Express. In his early years, he found it difficult to deal with his sexuality and joined the Ramakrishna Mission as a monk. A senior Hindu monk encouraged him to leave the monastery and engage in activism to explore and express his identity freely. Ashok founded India’s first gay magazine, Bombay Dost in 1990. He has been a representative at the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam and was among the first people to speak openly about gays and gay rights in India. His coming out interview was published in Savvy magazine in 1986 and led to a huge uproar. He has worked constantly towards providing a platform for active participation of homosexuals in public life in the country. Currently, he is the founder-chairperson of Humsafar Trust, an LGBT and health organization that works towards legalizing homosexuality, gender awareness, and sexual minorities outreach.

3. Kailash Satyarthi

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Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

Well-known child rights and education activist, Kailash Satyarthi is credited with rescuing more than 80,000 children from child and bonded labour since the 1980s. He started the Bachpan Bachao Andolan in 1980. It was his tireless efforts that compelled the International Labour Organization to adopt convention no. 182 to abolish the worst forms of child labour. Interestingly, India is one of the 15 member countries that have not ratified it yet since it became effective in 2000. Satyarthi, 62, has raided factories, brick kilns and carpet-making shops to rescue innocent children caught in the web of modern slavery. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.

4. Lakshmi Agarwal

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Photo Source: Mystic Treasure Trove

An acid attack survivor, Lakshmi Agarwal became an activist after she was attacked with acid by a group of men in 2005 because she had rejected one of the men’s advances. She is director of the Chhanv Foundation, an NGO that fights for the cause of acid attack victims in India. She gained widespread appreciation for campaigning against acid attacks and gathering 27,000 signatures for Public Interest Litigation (PIL) to curb the sale of acid, which led the Supreme Court to order central and state governments to regulate the sale of acid and the Parliament to make justice more accessible for acid attack victims. In 2014, Laxmi received the International Women of Courage award from First Lady of the US, Michelle Obama, and was also named NDTV Indian of the Year in 2014.

5. Bezwada Wilson

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Photo Source: Department of Sociology, Maitreyi College/Facebook

Bezwada Wilson is a social activist who has vehemently campaigned against the inhuman activity of manual scavenging. Wilson has saved and helped rehabilitate 3 lakh manual scavengers out of an estimated number of 6 lakh people still involved in this activity. He comes from a Dalit family in Kolar who were involved in manual scavenging for generations. Pained by his childhood experiences, he channelled his efforts to start a mass movement against manual scavenging. Leading the Safai Karmchari Andolan (SKA), he was instrumental in turning the 2014 Supreme Court verdict in his favour, which directed all States and Union Territories to compensate the families of manual scavengers who died cleaning sewers. He was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award this year for “asserting the inalienable right to a life of human dignity.”

6. Sunitha Krishnan

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Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

It takes nerves of steel to continuously fight for a social cause in the face of adversity. For Sunitha Krishnan, it is rescuing victims of sex trafficking and rehabilitating them into mainstream society. She is the co-founder of Prajwala, a Hyderabad based NGO dedicated to rescuing women from the clutches of prostitution and preventing the second generation from falling into the same trap by providing education. A gang rape survivor, Sunitha channelled her anger to put a smile on a little girl’s face. She has rescued more than 10,000 women and children, and has sensitized many on how to reintegrate them into society. She has been attacked 17 times for the work she does, but that has not deterred her from providing a better life for these women and children. She is also a recipient of this year’s Padma Shri award.

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