18, Sep 2019 | CJP Team
Meghalaya based rights activist Agnes Kharshiing has been awarded with the 11th international Hrant Dink award along with Turkish activist against male violence Nebahat Akkoc. Kharshiing, in her course of work, narrowly escaped an assault by the coal mafia merely a year ago.
The award commemorates the memory of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink who was killed in 2007 in Istanbul, Turkey.
We can do so many things to fill children’s hearts with love, not fear.“
2009 onwards, the award is presented to activists, individuals and organisations world over working to fight discrimination, racism and violence, and especially those who take personal risks for achieving those ideals, break the stereotypes and use the language of peace and inspire others by their work.
As per the award committee Ms. Kharshiing, 59, was chosen for “defending the rights of the poor, women, children and disadvantaged groups where she lives as well as for environmental rights”. Ms. Akkoç, based in Turkey’s Anatolia, was awarded for “working to raise awareness about women’s rights and to struggle against male violence”.
In December 2018, CJP had included the spunky Ms Kharshiing in the list of inspiring Human Rights Defenders (HRD). CJP remains committed to protecting such HRDs from institutional violence and promoting their humanitarian initiatives. You can read more about our work in this field here. Please donate now to help CJP continue our work.
Kharshiing has come to be known as the woman who chases trucks ferrying “illegally mined coal”. President of the Civil Society for Women’s Organisation, she and her associate, Amita Sangam were on November 8, 2018, assaulted by a mob during one of their many “surveillance” trips to Meghalaya’s East Jaintia hills, a district rich in coal and limestone. As many as 40 men allegedly involved in the banned rat-hole coal mining and illegal coal trade attacked their vehicle and severely injured Kharshiing. They had blunt weapons in their hands. When her companion Amita asked to spare her, she was attacked too. Kharshiing fell unconscious after the attack. Amita called the police and asked them to take Kharshiing to the hospital. Kharshiing was in coma for a week and took almost three months to recover. She has been under medication and police protection since. In the same incident, Amita, who also got grievously hurt, especially on her head and fingers. She is a mother of seven children and has had “no support from any quarters” and because of this, has not been able to pursue the case. She expected better compensation from the government apart from just waiving off medical bills. The matter is still pending with the Assembly committee on empowerment of women.
One month after the attack on her, at least 14 miners were found trapped in an illegal “rat-hole” mine operating in the same district. Meghalaya has an estimated coal reserve of close to 600 million tones, concentrated in the Jaintia and Garo hills. The mines are known for their dangerous working conditions. The National Green Tribual (NGT), in April 2014, following a petition by the Assam-based All Dimasa Students’ Union and the Dima Hasao District, which alleged that mining in Jaiñtia hills was polluting the Kopili river, had ordered the suspension of all rat-hole coal mining in Meghalaya; however it allowed the transport of already- mined coal until January 31, 2019. The permissibility of transportation implied that rat-hole mining continued in the region, often by minor workers who are hired for their small size and ability to fit in narrow tunnels even as the suspension meant an end for the multi-crore business that had developed links across several states in the country and Bangladesh, and was allegedly financed by high-profile politicians and businessmen. This venture was too lucrative and anybody who would have opposed it would have invited trouble.
Hence, whoever dared highlight the continuing extraction has been silenced. On March 19, RTI activist and former president of the Jaiñtia Youth Federation, Poipynhun Majaw was attacked and found murdered at Khliehriat, the district headquarters of East Jaintia Hills.
About the attack on Kharshiing, even the office Chief Minister recognised the important role played by civil society in a democratic system. “Violence in any form will not be tolerated and the government will take all necessary steps to ensure that those behind the attack are brought to justice,” the press statement reportedly said.
A Federation of 13 plus Workers Unions of Meghalaya had condemned the attack on both the social activists in the state.
“Agnes Kharshiing is a person who fights for the poor and downtrodden people in the region. She has always fought against the illegal activities in the region in order to protect the environment and livelihood of workers like us. Hence, we urge the Meghalaya Government to ensure that the culprits get immediately booked,” said the members of Workers Unions.
Khashiing, has also been a fierce defender of women’s and communities’ rights and led several sit-ins and protests against the government for eviction of local communities from the land. She spoke against corporal punishment and bullying in schools and had condemned the appointment of an MLA Julius Dorphong accused for the rape of a minor girl.
She has also been extensively involved in exposing graft and lack of transparency in child nutrition programs. She advocated for programs supporting local food. She has been also crucial in rescue missions to Radhamadhab Road- a red light area in Silchar, Assam.
While accepting the award, she said, “People should raise their voices, help the vulnerable and support them when their human rights are violated”. She added, “It is only this way that humanity can overcome hate. There are so many things that we can do together to bring peace to the world and fill the hearts of children with love, not fear.”