22 February 2006

Fight, a byword for Kinkri Devi

Sangrah (Nahan), February 22

After waging a long-drawn battle against the limestone quarrying mafia in a remote village of Himachal Pradesh, she is now struggling to make both ends meet. Saddled with the responsibility of maintaining herself and her family, wizened Kinkri Devi, 65, today feels exhausted and dejected.When this correspondent met her at her house in Sangrah tehsil, 60 km from Nahan, the environmental activist elaborated on her crusade against the mining mafia to protect flora and fauna, the ordeal she faced from them and, now, the disillusionment with the state government.

“I have been going to various government offices and organisations with the hope of getting the old-age or widow pension. Forget pension, the government has failed to provide me even a free bus pass,” rues Stree Shakti awardee Kinkri Devi, who was widowed when she was just 22.

She hogged the limelight when she took up cudgels against mindless mining in the area. She filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Himachal Pradesh High Court in 1987 seeking a ban on illegal quarrying in the Sangrah area.“Initially, we started agitations at the local level. When the government paid no heed, we decided to move the High Court. Backed by a local voluntary group, People’s Action for People in Need, we filed a PIL,” recalls Kinkri Devi.

“I stayed in Shimla for 19 days for filing the petition. After two days, when the money got exhausted, I worked as a maid there. I even started a fast in front of the High Court to highlight the issue,” she adds.

She faced threats from the mafia. Her poverty and illiteracy could never dampen her spirit to protect the area from degradation. In 1991, the court directed the government to close all the active mines in the area.

The mining lobby moved the Supreme Court against the order. Kinkri Devi won the case in the apex court too.

The feeble voice raised by this frail, short-statured woman of substance was heard when the Ministry of Human Resource Development felicitated her with the award of Jhansi Ki Rani Lakshmi Bai Stree Shakti Puraskar — 1999 for her valuable service. The award was given by the then Prime Minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in 2001. She was also honoured by various organisations for her service.

In 1995, she was invited to attend the international women’s conference in Beijing. She was invited by Hillary Clinton, wife of former US President Bill Clinton, to light up the lamp at the inaugural function.

Even today Kinkri Devi is determined to create awareness among the people about soil conservation, forest protection and water preservation. But poor health, coupled with poor financial condition, is now letting down this ageing widow. Her voice chokes when she asks: “Is this the way the government treats its heroes?”

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