Making India Stronger with Courage and Compassion Meet the Human Rights Defenders who inspired millions in 2018

31, Dec 2018 | CJP Team

Ordinary Indian citizens showed exceptional compassion and commitment to maintaining harmony as well as upholding the rights and freedoms guaranteed to all in out Constitution. Their exemplary courage inspires us all. Here’s are some Human Rights Defenders who are a beacon of hope for everyone.


Sokalo Gond

Sokalo Gond is an Adivasi forest rights activist dedicated to upholding and defending the rights of forest dwelling indigenous people. She hails from Uttar Pradesh’s heavily forested Sonebhadra district that is home to some of India’s oldest indigenous communities and tribes such as the Gonds. Sokalo is the executive committee member of the All-India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP), a sister organisation of CJP working in the field of forest rights.

Despite the passage of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) in 2006 that guarantees Adivasis rights to their forest land, forest dwellers across India have been denied their rights by a power full nexus of politicians, police and industrialists who want to exploit forest land for ‘development’ projects. They have effectively prevented the proper implementation of the FRA marginalising the already vulnerable Adivasis and forest dwellers. What’s worse, they often harass and bully Adivasi leaders by slapping false charges against them and throwing them in prison for long periods in a bid to break their spirit. But with Sokalo Gond, they bit off more than they could chew.

They first arrested her right before a major rally in support of a 100-day nationwide campaign for land and labour rights set to begin. Sokalo was incarcerated her for a month in Mirzapur jail in 2015. Then in 2018, Sokalo and two of her associates Kismatiya and Sukhdev Gond were picked up from Chopan railway station in a clandestine manner. This was shortly after a meeting with State Forest Secretary Dara Singh Chauhan about instances of police brutality against adivasis in Lilasi village where cops rained lathis on breastfeeding mothers and babies!

Sokalo, Kismatiya and Sukhdev’s whereabouts remained unknown until CJP and AIUFWP moved a habeas corpus petition before the Allahabad High Court forcing the police to admit that they had indeed picked up and incarcerated the trio. She was released on bail in November. The intimidation tactics and illegal captivity again failed to break Sokalo’s resolve who remains committed to securing justice for her people.

Zakia Jafri

Zakia Jafri is a survivor of the Gulberg Society massacre that took place during the statewide carnage in Gujarat in 2002. She and her husband Ehsan Jafri, a former Congress MP were shielding several Muslim families inside their home when a bloodthirsty mob surrounded them demanding that they give up the Muslim families. A brave Ehsan stepped out to try and reason with the mob, knowing fully well that they would kill him. He sacrificed himself, allowing many others to escape to safety.

But Zakia’s spirit was not broken and with the help of CJP she brought about a mammoth litigation that places accountability for failing to control the spread of violence on some of the most powerful administrators in the state government at the time. The original complaint that was filed on June 8, 2008 also contained over 2000 pages of annexures that provide evidence of not just failure to control violence, but also bad strategic decisions that could point to complicity. After a tortuous journey through lower courts that case that implicates powerful perpetrators who now run the government at the center, is now coming up for hearing in the Supreme Court.

HS Phoolka

Image Courtesy Twitter

Harvinder Singh Phoolka, a senior advocate at the Delhi High Court and a Human Rights activist, spearheaded the campaign for justice for the victims and survivors of the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom. His perseverance and courage paid off when Sajjan Kumar was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment by the Delhi High Court in December.This was a tortuous journey spanning 34 years and riddled with threats and intimidation tactics.

Several high profile leaders of the Congress Party were named as accused the case. These include HKL Bhagat, Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar. There were also several allegations of a cover up by the government of the day to shield their members from prosecution. But none of this weakened Phoolka’s resolve. In fact the court referred to “political patronage” while delivering its verdict.
Phoolka had himself narrowly escaped a rampaging mob while driving his pregnant wife home. He took internal roads and bylanes and steered clear of main roads to finally reach home. His family had to stay hidden in the store room of their Hindu landlord who sent rioters away saying the family had left the city. They briefly left Delhi and flew to Chandigarh, but Phoolka returned to help families of victims file cases.

Chandrashekhar Azad

On September 14, 2018, after spending over 15 months behind bars, Dalit leader Chandrashekar Azad was finally released from prison. Azad who had been falsely accused of instigating the violence during the Dalit-Thakur caste clashes that took place in Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh in May 2017, had been booked in 27 cases. He was put behind bars in June 2017. Just a day after securing bail in all cases, he was slapped with charges under the draconian National Security Act.

Chandrashekhar Azad first faced trouble in 2015, when he erected a sign on his property that read ‘The Great Chamars of Dhadkauli Welcome You’, sparking tensions between Dalits and Thakurs. He started organizing Bhim Army soon after this incident and mobilized many young Dalits under the banner. The Bhim Army was founded in 2015 by Azad with the objective of empowering Dalits through education. Bhim Army has gathered a lot of support this year with Azad hosting numerous rallies and events across India and recently launched a national student’s wing.

But trouble followed him all the way to Mumbai on December 28, where fearing his popularity the entire state machinery acted in an unprecedented manner to prevent Azad from interacting with people. First, they denied permission for a rally that Chandrashekhar was to address at Worli’s Jambori maidan just a day before the event and imposed prohibitory orders preventing a gathering of five or more people. Then they virtually held Azad and his supporters captive at the Malad hotel where they were staying. Azad was neither permitted to leave the hotel premises not give interviews to the press.

Finally, in the evening he was taken to Chaityabhoomi in a police convoy as he had expressed his wish to pay respects to Dr BR Ambedkar at his memorial. However, within minutes of reaching the spot Azad and his supporters were herded into a police van and taken for a ride across town! After three hours they were dropped back at their hotel. The entire episode appeared to be a scare tactic. But the harassment did not end there. The following morning, the police not only continued to prevent Azad from leaving the hotel, but also arrested Subodh More, a CPI (M) leader who had gone to meet him. More remained incommunicado and his whereabouts remained unknown for hours before he was released on December 29.

Dr. Kafeel Ahmed Khan

Image Courtesy Sabrang India

In August 2017, 23 children died overnight at Gorakhpur’s Baba Raghubar Das Medical College Hospital, allegedly because of an oxygen shortage. Dr. Kafeel Khan, a paediatrician working in the encephalitis ward at the hospital, rushed to arrange for oxygen cylinders, earning respect for his quick efforts.

However, on August 13, 2017, he was removed from his position as a nodal officer, just days after the incident. In September 2017, Dr. Khan was arrested in connection with the children’s deaths and also over corruption charges that have since been dropped. He was set free on bail in April.

Dr. Kafeel Khan, who saved dozens of lives during the Gorakhpur tragedy, is still fighting for justice. In July, his brother was critically injured when bike-borne men shot at him just 500 mts away from Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath’s residence.

The suspended paediatrician has to visit the court every 14 days just to sign documents. Every other week he has to shuttle between Allahabad and Lucknow to appear either for the probe on his brother’s attack or for his job. His suspension isn’t being revoked and he isn’t being allowed to serve either.

Yashpal Saxena

After a young boy Ankit Saxena was brutally murdered by members of his girlfriend’s family, there were fears that given how this was an interfaith relationship, matters could take a turn for the worse. But Ankit’s father Yashpal showed compassion and restored our faith in humanity when he pleaded with people to not communalize the issue and spread love instead of hatred. Four months after his son was killed, Yashpal Saxena organized an Iftar Party at hid Delhi residence which was attended by around 200 people. It was organized by the Ankit Saxena Trust which was set up by his father to promote peace, help inter-faith couples get married and understand the anger of the youth.

Imam Imdadul Rashidi

Image Courtesy Anandbazar

Communal clashed broke out in Asansol in March this year when unknown miscreants attacked a Ram Leela procession passed through a minority community neighbourhood. Several innocent lives were lost during the indiscriminate violence that ensued. 16 year old class X student Sibtullah Rashidi was one such innocent victim. The loss of a child is enough to drive any parent mad with rage and swear vengeance, but not Sibtullah’s father Imam Imdadlul Rashidi. Imam Rashidi was the senior most cleric at the Noorani Mosque at Chetladanga Nadi Par area of the Cahndmari Rail Par neighbourhood of Asansol.

At his son’s funeral, he urged his community members not to retaliate or seek revenge, stating that if they did so he would leave the mosque. “I want peace. My boy has been taken away. I don’t want any more families to lose their loved ones. I don’t want any more houses to burn. I will leave Asansol if there is any kind of retaliation. If you love me, you will not raise a finger,” he is reported to have said. Such a strong message showed his commitment to maintain harmony even amidst such a trying time. This selfless decision helped calm the situation and helped restore peace in the region.

Mariam Khatoon

Mariam Khatoon lost her 45-year-old husband Alimuddin Ansari to a lynch mob on June 27, 2017. He was brutally beaten to death by a mob of nearly 100 people who intercepted his vehicle at Bazartand in Ramgarh district of Jharkhand. The assailants accused him of transporting beef in his van. They dragged him outside his van and beat him with sticks and pieces of meat. The mob also set his car on fire.

Ansari left behind six children including three daughters. He was the only earning member in the family. The police investigation found that members of a right wing supremacist group were involved in the murder which was planned and executed with precision. What made his case truly terrifying was the manner in which witnesses were silenced even as the trial was on in court. Alimuddin Ansari’s brother Jalil Ansari who was a witness in the case was unable to depose as he did not have valid identity documents. When his wife Julekha and Alimuddin’s son Shazad went back home to get the necessary documents, their car met with an “accident.” Julekha was killed and Shazad sustained injuries when an unidentified man rammed his bike into their bike. Alimuddin’s family and friends suspect that this may not be an ‘accident’.

In March 2018, a fast tract court in Jharkhand convicted 11 people including a local BJP leader. That’s when Mariam Ansari showed the true strength of her humanity and said that she wanted justice and not revenge. She did not ask for death penalty for the convicts. In an exclusive interview to journalist Ajit Sahi, Marium said, “Though they murdered my husband I don’t want them to lose their lives. I would prefer the court gave them life imprisonment.”

Kishorechandra Wangkhem

Kishorechandra Wangkhem, an Imphal based journalist, was arrested by state police under the National Security Act (NSA) on November 26. He was given a 12-month jail term – the maximum period of detention allowed under the Act. He was also sacked from his job. All this because he called Manipur’s CM Biren Singh a BJP puppet.

The former anchor-reporter with ISTV, a local news channel, had criticized the ruling party over an event in November. He condemned the state chief minister N. Biren Singh in his Facebook video. He lashed out at Singh, calling him a “puppet of Modi and Hindutva” for organising a function in Manipur on November 19 to mark the birth anniversary of Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi, who he claimed had “nothing to do with Manipur”. “Do you have any sense of Manipuri nationalism?” he asked in the video. On several occasions during the video, Wangkhem used expletives for Modi and Singh. “Come and arrest me,” he said.

“If we cannot say anything against the government, then, it shows there is no democracy on our land. Arresting me under NSA for speaking against the government should be appropriate only in the times of Hitler. I strongly denounce the detention under NSA and democracy has no place here,” said Wangkhem adding, “Wake Up People! Wake Up! This is a dictatorial rule, this is an autocracy. We need to unite and bring down such a government in the land!”


It took a judgment from the Indian Supreme Court to make it clear to a deeply patriarchal society, that an adult woman’s agency must be respected even if her decision may not be aligned with prevalent (and problematic) socio-cultural norms.

Hadiya, a young medical student from Kerala, was previously named Akhila. In December 2016, she married Shafin Jahan against the wishes of her family and subsequently converted to Islam taking the name Hadiya. Her father Asokan then approached the police claiming his daughter was brainwashed into converting to Islam. His allegation ranged from Love Jihad to the conspiracy to turn Hadiya into a sex slave for ISIS!

The National Investigation Agency started probing the ludicrous allegations, that would have never attracted any attention had this not been an interfaith marriage and had myths like Love Jihad been nipped in the bud. But when the flames of anti-Muslim sentiment are allowed to spread, it always ends in disaster. The Kerala High Court showed utter disregard for an adult woman’s choice by calling her marriage a “sham”. The court not only annulled her marriage, but also awarded a grown woman’s ‘custody’ to her parents!

Shafin challenged the judgement in the Supreme Court and the apex court heard her in person in November 2017, where she not only reiterated that she married Shafin of her own free will, and that she converted to Islam without any influence or pressure. Then, in a fitting slap across the face of patriarchy, the apex court struck down a deeply problematic judgement of the Kerala High Court and directed that Hadiya be sent to Shivraj Homeo Medical College in Salem to complete her education. Hadiya sought the court’s permission to live with her husband and their marriage was restored.

Subodh Kumar Singh

Subodh Kumar Singh, an honest and upright cop investigating the Mohammed Ikhlaq lynching case. Little did he know, that his end too would come at the hands of alleged cow protection groups. The 47 year old Station House Officer was murdered during the violence that broke out in Bulanshahr after a cow was allegedly slaughtered in the area. Video clips circulating on social media suggest that Singh’s murder was planned and the communal violence served as a cover for the actual crime.

Singh had reached the spot immediately after getting the call about cow slaughter and tried his best to calm the irate crowd. He was joined by the Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) of Siyana who kept on announcing via a loudspeaker that exemplary action was being taken against those found guilty of killing cows. However, the killers were hiding in the crowd that surrounded them and shot him dead.

Gagandeep Singh

The video of a Sikh police officer saving a Muslim man from an attack by a group of Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad men in Girija village in Nainital, Uttarakhand went viral on social media this year.

A 28-year-old Sikh police officer, Gagandeep Singh, helped save a Muslim youth from an angry mob. On realizing the danger to the man’s life, he immediately rushed towards the crowd and used his own body as a shield to protect the youth from the angry mob. He also refused any financial rewards saying he was merely performing his duty. Singh proved to be the hero India needs today and on August 15, on the occasion of Independence Day, he was awardedg the ‘Frontier Service Respect Mark’ medal by DGP Anil Rathudi.

Richa Singh

Samajwadi Party

Former Allahabad University Students Union President Richa Singh who is now a member of the Samajwadi Party was attacked with several of her fellow students’ activists at the Universty of Allahabad. In an exclusive telephonic interview to Sabrang India, Richa Singh said, “They lobbed bombs on campus to spread fear among students. They also categorically told us to stop speaking against the Vice Chancellor.”

The former Student Union President of Allahabad University was arrested on June 19 for protesting against the Hindi exam paper leak along with several other Uttar Pradesh Public Service Commission (UPPSC) aspirants and accused of burning a public transport bus.

The fiesty student leader had created history by not just being the first woman president of the AUSU but also ensuring that Adityanath (thereafter to become a chief minister) was kept out of the campus on account of his virulently anti-minority views.

Umar Khalid

Umar Khalid

Firebrand student leader Umar Khalid was shot at by an ‘unidentified gunman’ in New Delhi on August 13. The blatant attack that many see as an intimidation tactic, ironically took place when JNU scholar was attending a program titled Khauf se Azaadi (Towards a Freedom Without Fear) at the Constitution Club.

The program was organised by a group called United Against Hate to highlight the increasing number of attacks on minorities, students and rationalists. “There is an atmosphere of fear in the country, and anybody who speaks against the government is threatened,” said Umar with his characteristic calm, less than an hour after being shot at.

Umar Khalid, a student activist and PhD Scholar from JNU, was arrested under charges of sedition and for allegedly raising anti-India slogans at a protest against the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Agnes Kharshiing and A Sangma

A social activist from Meghalaya and president of the Civil Society Women’s Organisation (CSWO), Agnes Kharshiing and her colleague, A Sangma were attacked by members of suspected coal mafia in Tuber Sohshrieh in East Jaintia Hills, Meghalaya in November.

The incident happened a day after Kharshiing lodged a complaint on coal-laden trucks parked at Mawiong rim in Shillong, which were later seized by the police. Kharshiing has been very vocal against coal mining activities in the state since the NGT ban. In the past, she had exposed rampant mining and transportation of coal despite the ban across the Khasi and Jaintia Hills.

Kharshiing, a well-known activist, and her colleague Sangma were visiting to verify the information they had received – that coal had been mined illegally and transported out of the area in large quantities, despite a state-wide ban on ‘rat-hole mining’.

Sangma and Kharshiing are part of the well-known NGO Civil Society Women’s Organisation and are still recovering from the attack. Kharshiing gave an interview after the attack. The brave account can be read here.

Read more:

CJP and AIUFWP move Allahabad High Court to release illegally detained Adivasis

Want Justice not Revenge: Mariam Ansari

Dastardly attempt to assassinate Umar Khalid


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