Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Home-Based Weavers in Varanasi Form a Union in The Struggle To Preserve Their Culture and Livelihood

Author: Prashant Bhagat

Varanasi is an ancient, famous and culturally rich district of Uttar Pradesh State of India. Varanasi is also a holy city which rests on the banks of the Ganges, and home to banarasi saris (Indian dress that women wear) that are woven predominantly on hand looms. They are woven by highly skilled weavers, and are considered some of the finest saris in India, made of finely woven silk and decorated with elaborate embroidery and engravings. Because of these engravings, these saris are relatively heavy. The tradition of weaving these saris is almost 800 years old, and they have been in demand for centuries from almost all parts of India. During the Mughal rule, this art reached its zenith due to the amalgamation of the Indian and Persian design and creativity. Even today the workers weaving these saris are predominantly Muslims. The weaving of saris is a household industry, with members of the family including women and children playing vital supporting roles. However during the past two decades, this art and industry have declined rapidly, leading to severe impoverishment of workers and their families to such an extent that children of these families are facing severe hunger and malnutrition. Yet in the face of this, attempts have been made on the part of the weaving community to get organized in some sort of force to demand justice and their rightful place and respect in the Varanasi society.

Structure and Character of Banarasi Sari Weaving Industry

The full production process from raw material (including silk and other threads for embroidery) to a finished sari, includes an intricate web of many actors such as weavers, master weavers, raw material suppliers, designers (card makers), etc. It is widely believed that the whole structure is fairly feudal in character, where a majority of workers toil to weave the saris and a minority few have total control of markets, raw materials and other resources. These privileged few also behave as 'masters' and exploit the weavers to the fullest.

The total number of workers and families working in this trade is not known exactly, as there has not been any effort to carry out a thorough survey. However unofficial estimates by various voluntary organizations put the total number of workers at about 500,000, a majority of whom have received very little or no education.

Banarasi saris are predominantly woven on a handloom with silk threads. The technology is quite ancient, and there has not been much technological innovation in this sector, although in the past few decades some of the weaving has also been done on power looms. The trade is predominantly controlled by 'Gaddidars' or the traders who have the access to raw materials and the market, and who also sometimes own the looms. The weavers usually fall into one of two categories. Some are self-employed, where they own their own loom and purchase their own raw material, but have no access to the market and have to sell their produce through the trader. Even the access to raw materials is controlled by the traders as weavers do not have enough money to buy the raw materials in bulk, and thus even the independent weavers end up working for the trader. Alternatively, some weavers work as wage labourers at the looms owned by the traders. In either case the weavers are at the mercy of the trader for their livelihood. Weavers earn only 300 to 400 rupees (about US$9 to US$10) on a sari that may take even 15 days to complete, and the traders pay the money only when the sari is sold in the market. Traders often point out defects in the saris either in weaving or in the embroidery just in order to push down the price. Faced with a desperate situation, the weavers often end up taking out loans or advances from the traders and being in a kind of bonded relationship.

Some weavers are also members of a cooperative organization. However, the majority of cooperatives are controlled by the traders themselves. These cooperatives were set up by government to end the isolation of weavers from the market—on one hand providing them with easily accessible raw material, and on the other hand providing them with easy access to the market. However, even this institution has been corrupted and is under the control of the traders themselves who now enjoy even access to more raw materials.

Women and Children
Women and children are exploited in this industry, yet remain invisible, and often unpaid. Women play an important role in all stages of sari preparation yet their contribution is hardly recognized. Women often spin thread, cut thread and do important jobs that are often considered as secondary or menial. The job is highly repetitive and they have to work sitting in uncomfortable positions for long hours sometimes even six to seven hours at once. Women are generally not paid directly, as they help the men in the household. If they are employed by the traders, they are only paid 10 to 15 rupees a day (about USD0.25). They are not allowed to sit on the looms as the general perception is that women cannot weave saris. The intense exploitation of women is subsidizing the whole production of banarasi saris. Their labour is adding value to the product yet it remains unpaid or poorly paid, and thus the cost of production remains low.
Children also help their family members make saris, and they also have to work for long hours in very tiring conditions. Children are also sometimes employed for 'pattern making' and other small jobs which help to speed up the whole process. Children are also sometimes forced to work to pay back loans that their parents or family members may have taken out.

Increasing poverty among weavers in Varanasi
A variety of reasons is given for the decline of the weaving industry since the 1990s. Some blame mechanization. Some criticize the quality of the saris. Some cite other reasons like the WTO and competition from Chinese silk saris. But no proper initiative was taken either by state or central governments to counter this decline. Traders, on the contrary, have continued to make profits, without paying much to the weavers who have ended up in a situation of utmost poverty and destitution. Local media has also neglected the declining process. Over the course of a decade, the hand weavers' situation has become very pitiful, and weavers have started committing suicide because of hunger and poverty. From 2002 until today, about 100 weavers have committed suicide or died of hunger in Varanasi, and a lot are suffering from lung diseases because of silk and cotton fibres. Many are dying from these lung diseases, which are commonly diagnosed as tuberculosis. The children of weavers are suffering from malnutrition and they are forced to work for their meals. Many weavers are supplementing their meager weaving income with other work, such as driving cycle rickshaws.

This informal sector – characterized largely by household production units – has no culture of unions, or in other words they are working in a scattered way and have previously not come together under a common banner. The Muslim section of the community does have community councils, which are involved in settling their social problems. But these councils cannot address the problem of the whole weaving industry because they are religion-based, and they are not political forums.

In India theoretically all citizens – including informal sector workers – are covered by the public health system. But in practice, the public health system is like elephant's teeth: only for show, not for eating. In Varanasi nobody gets proper benefits, unless they have political contacts or are willing to give bribes to get access to medical facilities in government hospitals. Weavers and their families suffer greatly from lack of access to medical treatment for common problems such as lung diseases like tuberculosis. Eighty per cent of weavers' children are underweight and suffer from many diseases.

The formation of a weavers' union

When the People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), a membership-based organization, became aware of the suicide of a weaver in 2002 they were shocked because weavers had a reputation for relative prosperity. A fact-finding team visited Varanasi to find the reasons behind the suicide. During this fact-finding mission they interacted with the problems of weavers and the weaving industry. The entire mohalla Baghwanala (one of the weavers' colonies) seemed like a 'ruined forest', meaning no-one could be heard laughing, and not a single face bore a smile. About 50 percent of handlooms were not in working condition because of lack of raw materials and no new orders for new saris.

PVCHR realized that without uniting weavers under a common banner they could not do any fruitful things for them. PVCHR called a core team together for discussing the weavers and their problems, and it was decided to intervene in their problems. Nearly 500 weavers came in contact with PVCHR and they decided that they were in need of a union of weavers, which would struggle to revive the handloom industry and lobby the government for better social security for weavers. Finally Bunkar Dastkaar Adhikaar Manch (BDAM, or Forum of Rights of Weavers and Artisans) was established in 2003 and they elected Mr. Siddique Hasan, a weaver, as Convener of this union.
BDAM is a membership-based union and it is facilitated by PVCHR. The work of BDAM has included both organizing and advocacy. BDAM uses a 'folkway' strategy, which means giving people a chance to speak about their experience in their own way. The role of PVCHR is organizing and documenting what people are talking about and how they are seeing their problems.
BDAM has three primary focus issues: right to health, right to food and revival of the handloom industry.

Health problems

Almost all sari workers suffer from some kind of ailment owing to the very poor working conditions. The looms are often in cluttered places with poor ventilation, and workplaces are very dusty. Weavers and their families often suffer from respiratory ailments from breathing in the dust and fine yarn from the fabric, as well as range of health ailments owing to the lack of nutritious food and excessive workload. Children are suffering from malnutrition.

In light of the failure of the public health system, BDAM and PVCHR have been lobbying the government for improvements. In the last three years, BDAM and PVCHR organized people's tribunals on three occasions, where weavers' stories and opinions could be heard. PVCHR also approached the Planning Commission of India many times and as a result of this lobbying, the government approved a health insurance plan for weavers. Under this scheme, the health expenses of weavers and their families, including husband, wife and up to two children, are covered both in public as well as some designated private hospitals (capped at 15,000 rupees, or approximately US$350, annually). This insurance scheme is implemented by the Industrial Credit and Investment Corporation of India (ICICI Bank). Every weaver contributes 200 rupees annually, and for every weaver an additional 902 rupees is contributed by the Indian Government. This is an achievement of PVCHR and BDAM. But unfortunately, like other government schemes, this also went into the jaw of corruption. Instead of getting benefits from it, weavers have had to struggle through BDAM for fair and honest implementation of the scheme. The most common misuse is that insurance cards of weavers were issued to some other persons who take benefits from the medical insurance. Meanwhile poor weavers did not get the insurance cards nor the health care they were promised. The formation of the BDAM union has helped to expose the cases of corruption and maladministration, and many of the weavers managed to get their insurance card after struggle.

Right to food

Due to the decline of the hand weaving industry, weavers are facing serious poverty and food crises. India has a Public Distribution System (PDS) – characteristic of its socialistic policies of the past (ironically the official name of India is the Socialist Republic of India). In the past, the majority of the public would have access to subsidized food distributed via the PDS. However, since the 1990s with the neoliberal reforms, much of the PDS crumbled to the 'market forces' and the 'Ration Card' that was issued to all families to access the PDS has now become more like an identification card and is used only for administrative purposes. However, in the case of many impoverished communities, the government issues special Ration Cards by which they can have access to subsidized food. This allows poor communities to access basic food stuff at very low price. Weavers are also identified in this category, and on paper can have access to this subsidized food. However, in reality it is different, because corruption in the PDS system ensures that the eligible weavers are not provided with the 'Ration Card' and they and their families continue to suffer from hunger. Instead, fake Ration Cards are provided to people who do not deserve one.

BDAM is trying its best to ensure the food rights of weavers, through monitoring and taking steps against corruption by writing petitions and filing complaints. When members became aware of this corruption, they staged a demonstration at the district headquarters of Varanasi, with bread in their hands. After the demonstration, they started collecting data and stories of individuals who were suffering from hunger. They sent these stories to all relevant authorities, media persons and members of Parliament and legislative councils. It created a discourse in the world of intellectuals and government, which mobilized the government to start doing surveys and providing rations cards.

Struggle to preserve weavers' culture and livelihood
If state government and central government do not come together to support the revival of the hand loom industry, then in the coming decade there may not be a single man or woman in Varanasi remaining engaged in weaving. Weaving is a culture and it has also been a means of livelihood for weavers for centuries. Weavers are artists who are making unique designs that are unmatchable, and there are is still no modern technology which will make saris similar to them. However weavers and their children are dying of hunger and those artists whose hands are accustomed to making antique saris are committing suicide. What kind of irony is this?
These weavers develop their own unique design according to their local ways, and likewise they developed their way of struggling, rather than following the way of any other trade union or political party. Why do they look very different while protesting, demonstrating, or giving memorandums to governments? After spending two years with them I realized that it is because of their identity as weavers. They are not Muslims, and on the other hand they are not Hindu either. They are weavers, and weaving is a culture. It is not a religion, like some other fronts of social struggle. The central issue here is their culture, as well as an occupation and means of livelihood. When the culture of weaving is dying, how will the workers doing the weaving survive? How a community can survive without its culture? That must be like life in a vacuum. It means a land of uncultured people, who have to pass the tunnel of civilization again, in order to be part and parcel of this mainstream, so-called civilized society.

Dr. Lenin (Ashoka Fellow and 2007 Gwanju Human Rights Awardee)
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Friday, October 24, 2008

Call for Application - International Internship Program 2009



The May 18 Memorial Foundation was founded by Gwangju citizens, sympathetic overseas Koreans, and from individuals who sacrificed and got indemnification from the government. It was created on August 30, 1994 by people who believe it's important to keep the ideas and memories of the 1980 May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising alive and remembered.

The International Internship Program is a program of the Foundation created in 2005 to contribute in the development of democracy and human rights throughout Asia. It is also an opportunity for interns to learn and experience the history and process of the development of human rights and democracy in South Korea. Specifically the purpose and aim of the program are the following: 1) To improve international solidarity and networking and 2) To promote Gwangju as Asia's Hub for Human Rights Movement.

The Foundation is looking for two interns who will serve for 10 months from March-December 2009. Applicants female or male should not be more than 30 years of age, with a minimum of 3 years NGO or social development work experience on the issues of human rights, democracy and peace. Must be proficient in English and working knowledge of Korean is an advantage. Must be computer literate (email/internet, blog/web page, lay-out/design, etc).

Living allowance will be provided to successful interns. Housing will be provided but utilities (telephone/internet, electricity, and gas) will be paid for by interns. The Foundation will pay for the round trip airfare of interns.

Deadline of application is on 28 November 2008. Short listed applicants will be emailed for an online/webcam interview through Skype or Yahoo messenger.

Please download the application form with the link provided if you are interested to apply and send application to the email address below:



Thursday, October 23, 2008

A voice against Social Exclusion, Religious Marginalization and Communal Fascism

NAFRE Jan Andolan (National Alliance for Fundamental Right to Education - People's Movement), had organized an All India consultation on 'Social exclusion, Religious marginalization and communal fascism' at Bangalore from 13th October, till 15th October, 08.

The purpose of this consultation is to examine in detail the historical origin, machination of the politics of Social Exclusion and Religious Marginalization. As an outcome, NAFRE – Jan Andolan has come out with a declaration on this topic.

The socio-economic, cultural relation in the Indian sub-continent has undergone a sea-change in the post-independence era in favour of the rich and the powerful. While the Indian economy said to be doing very well – the people are not – particularly the marginalized! The simple reason is that the basic structure and discriminatory character of the Indian society remains unchanged. As a result, vast majority of the marginalized communities are excluded from access to power and resources and are denied their full rights as human beings.

The phenomena of social exclusion, religious marginalization and communal fascism have emerged as serious challenge to all those who are struggling to create an egalitarian society. Debate and discussion on inequalities itself is diminishing in the society today. In fact, more effort goes into rationalizing inequalities than in discussing how equality might be achieved.

In order to facilitate a serious public debate and to bring the issue of Social Exclusion to the centre stage, NAFRE Jan Andholan had organized a 3 day All India Consultation at Bangalore from 13th-15th October 2008. The intent was to bring communities and activists together to re-affirm the faith in building an egalitarian society and collectively evolve an agenda to work toward social and economic equality.

The three day consultation witnessed participation from NAFRE representatives as well as resource persons well versed in the field - Eknath Awad, Prof. Kancha Ilaiah Braj Ranjan Mani, Aloysius, Mohammad Siraz, Cynthia Stephen, to name a few.

Inaugurating the consultation, Eknath Awad, Convener, BHA (Baal Haq Abhiyaan) made a fervent appeal to the participants not to look at the manifestations in the society, but the root causes of inequalities. The country is confronted with lack of alternate political model and emphasized that the victims of caste, religious, gender discriminations should come together to challenge the existing social order.

In his key note speech, Prof. Kancha Ilaiah, author of several books and columnists in several dailies, analyzed the atrocities and violences – particularly against the minorities in Orissa, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh observed that the Indian society is in the midst of a civil war-like situation and every one need to be prepared for the same and said that without a civil war, true freedom, independence and equality is not possible. There is no social democracy (all men/women are equal) in Hindu religion. Annihilation of Hinduism, rejection of Sanskrit-based vernacular languages is pre-conditions for the war. He suggested that state funded, quality education would lead to rational thinking and eventually will lead to establishing a just society.

Braj Ranjan Mani
, author analyzed how Brahminism established oppressive and discriminatory knowledge system in Indian society, which he termed it as 'knowledge based violence'. The dominant class later consolidated themselves in power and had the power to 'produce and reproduce knowledge'. He also pointed out that the historical construct is antithetical to the marginalized community perspective. The need of the hour is to work towards bringing 'Emancipatory Education', or Egalitarian Education' to challenge the dominant construct.

Aloysius, a well-known author
spoke on Nation, Nationalism, Caste and Hinduism highlighted that the Indian polity is fundamentally 'Brahminical'. He pointed out the Brahminical mind-set that was existing at the time of the Independence movement. The leadership looked at the Independence movement from a culture/nationalist view, rather than from viewing it from the perspective of political representation and equal rights for citizens. The Hindu mindset further reinforced the belief 'men are born differently and therefore should be treated differently' and this was consciously constructed as the modern ideology. Without equal citizenship, one can not call India as a nation.

Mohammad Siraz, Writer
and an Activist analyzed Indian history and pointed out how history has been brahminized and distorted in favour of the Hindu majority and at the same time portraying the indigenous converts (minorities) as 'invaders, outsiders'. He also said that India is not a nation; it is a multi-nation and is in the process of evolving as a nation. Brahminical mindset of – identifying sources or power and appropriating power' need to be challenged.

Senior Advocate and Social Activist Mohan Kumar analyzed the current situation in the pretext of Brahmanism and Imperialism in the realm of Communalism in Orissa and Karnataka

Anton Gomes
, Coastal activist spoke of how the fishing community in the Indian coastal is completely excluded due to Indian politics and the impact of CMZ on the livelihood of the fishing community.

, Tribal activist discussed about the denial of rights to adivasis and the issue of displacement and its impact on the community.

Arun Kumar
spoke about the impact of Brahmanism and Imperialism on education and how it has permeated into the education system. He discussed how the impact must be seen In terms of class room interactions, teacher training, syllabi, curricula etc.

The consultation was concluded with a declaration that lays emphasis on the belief that it is necessary to establish a democratic society based on the culture of Justice, Equality, Liberty and Fraternity, as envisioned by Buddha, Mahatma Jyothi Rao Phule E.V.R.Peryaar, and Baba saheb Ambedkar. The declaration analyses how hegemonic ideology is born out of the segregation of society into various unequal social groups with graded inequalities and functions through structured institutions like Caste, Patriarchy, Religion and Nation State. It also recognizes the value of indigenous cultural streams and how they have promoted the Dignity of Individuals and Community and belief in non-exploitative and non-hegemonic cultural fabric for thousands of years. It further analyses the institutions of family, caste, religion, culture, politics where women from various social strata are subjugated to different levels of discrimination. It identifies that the sectarian politics and its culture of intolerance have already played havoc, more so in the post-independence period by unleashing communal tensions, wars where loss of life and blood shedding has seriously broken the canvass of cultural harmony resulting in communal fascism. It also recognises the fact that today development policies like SEZ, CMZ, all round privatization have further marginalized and excluded the historically disadvantaged communities, and imposed acute conditions of human existence (malnutrition, suicide and hunger deaths), livelihood crisis, deprived human development, forced migration, large scale displacement, etc. All of this also has an impact on children and the future of a truly egalitarian society lies in the holistic growth of our children by creating a just and secure environment for them.

The declaration finally recalls the struggles that innumerable leaders like Jyothiba Phule, Narayanguru, Ayothidas Pandithar, Periyar EVR, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Paditha.Ramabai, Rettamalai Srinivasan, have waged for the emancipation of the indigenous people of this country. With this declaration the concludes with members resolving to re-dedicate themselves to take forward the struggle of the indigenous communities and to bring an end all forms of domination, oppression, exploitation and to achieve human liberation.

Dr. Lenin
is executive committee member of Voice of People(VOP),which is allinace member of NAFRE for UP state
Dr. Lenin (Ashoka Fellow and 2007 Gwanju Human Rights Awardee)
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Monday, October 20, 2008

Tibetans Jailed For Blasts

At least three Tibetans have been handed jail terms ranging from four to nine years in connection with several explosions in Markham county, Chamdo, during Tibetan protests earlier this year.

KATHMANDU—Chinese authorities in Tibet's Markham county have sentenced four monks to jail terms of four to nine years for "terrorist actions" in connection with a series of small blasts during massive anti-China protests in the region earlier this year, according to several knowledgeable sources.

"The Tibetans were given lighter sentences for some genuine reasons," a security official in Markham county who declined to be named said, confirming the Sept. 23 sentencing by the Chamdo [in Chinese, Changdu] Intermediate People's Court.

"Those who were involved in the explosions were instigated from the outside. There were no casualties in the explosion, and damage to government property was minimal."

"They carried out terrorist actions." Security official

The mostly teenage monks were among dozens detained in Markham county on or around May 14 and were charged with "obstructing the Olympics" and "damaging national stability."

Three of the monks sentenced were named by sources in Markham county as: Tenzin Tsangpa, 19, who was jailed for four years; Lobsang Gyatso, 19, who received a five-year sentence; and Tenphel, 19, who was handed an eight-year sentence. The identity of the fourth sentenced monk wasn't immediately known.

All the monks are believed to have been from Markham county's Oser monastery or one of its branches.

'Terrorist actions'

The security official said: "They carried out terrorist actions...If they don't appeal, they will be taken to Kongpo for imprisonment 10 days after sentencing. None had lodged an appeal by Sept. 30."

A total of 22 Tibetans were detained in Markham county over 12 days from May 13. Only six are known to have since been released. A further five monks from Phunlag Gonsar and Khenpa Lung monasteries are also believed to have been jailed in connection with the blasts.

“Another five monks were sentenced to imprisonment. Those are monks from Gonsar monastery, and Khenpa Lung monastery. But I don't know details about the length of the sentences."

Tibetan sources in the region reported eight separate explosions in the Markham area during the Tibetan protests earlier this year.

No one was hurt in the blasts, three of which occurred at a Chinese military base camp, one at the Markham county office, three at an electric power transmission station, and one at the residence of a Tibetan who worships Shugden, a controversial deity espoused by Beijing but regarded with suspicion by those loyal to the Dalai Lama.

Overseas rights groups have expressed concern over the "disappearance" of monks from Markham county following the blasts.

Detained in May

Knowledgeable Tibetan sources have identified some of the monks detained May 24 from Gonsar monastery in Markham as: Gonpo, 20; Choedrub, 25; Palden, 30; Ngawang Phuntsok, 17; and Kunga, 20.

The three Oser monks sentenced Sept. 23 along with Riyang, 21, and Choegyal, 23, were also detained around that time.

The Khenpa Lung monks were identified as Lobdra, 15; Namgyal, 18; Butrug, 13; Jamyang Lodroe, 15; Tsepag Namgyal, 15; Kalsang Tashi, 17; Jamdrub, 21; Wangchug, 22; Penpa Gyaltsen, 26; Pasang Tashi, 30; and Lhamo Tsang.

Two detained laypeople were identified as Dargye Garwatsang, 19, and Konchog Tenzin, 21.

Chinese authorities have made numerous arrests and launched a “patriotic education” campaign aimed at Tibetans after protests and riots that began in Lhasa in mid-March and spread to other Tibetan areas.

Beijing says 22 people were killed in the rioting. Tibetan sources say scores of people were killed when Chinese paramilitary and police opened fire on crowds of demonstrators.

Chinese authorities have blamed exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, for instigating the protests and fomenting what they regard as a “splittist” Tibetan independence movement. The Dalai Lama rejects the accusation, saying he wants only autonomy and human rights for Tibetans.

Original reporting in Kham by Lobsang Choephel. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Written and produced in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

Any tears for the Aam Aadmi?

In Belwa, a hamlet in Uttar Pradesh's Varanasi district, it's almost noon by the time the women get around to cooking but the meal is ready in a jiffy. A few rotis and a bowl of salt water. Dip, dip, dip...and the hungry children gulp down their first - and last - meal of the day.

''By evening, they will be crying again but a slap or two will quieten them down,'' says Laxmina, wife of a brick kiln worker and mother of three. Her face is deadpan but her voice betrays her desperation. These months are the worst in Belwa. With the brick kilns closed from July to October, the hamlet's Musahars, the bottom rung in India's caste system, struggle to survive. And it is children who are the most vulnerable. A health check in Belwa by People's Vigilance Council for Human Rights, a n organisation that works in the area, found that more than 80% of its children were malnourished.

''In the past year, food prices have gone up sharply but incomes haven't. It is impossible for children to be healthy on a diet of rotis with no milk or vegetables,'' says Lenin Raghuvanshi, a PVCHR activist. But bloated stomachs and wasted limbs are a reality not just in this corner of eastern UP. Consider these statistics:

Four in every 10 Indian children are malnourished, says a UN report.

India ranks a lowly 66 out of 88 countries in the Global Hunger Index 2008. The report says India has more hungry people - more than 200 million - than any other country in the world.

One-third of the world's poor live in India, according to the latest poverty estimates from the World Bank. Based on its new threshold of poverty - $1.25 a day - the number of India's poor people has actually gone up from 421 million in 1981 to 456 million in 2005

India ranks 128 out of 177 countries in the UN's Human Development Index. The index goes beyond GDP and calculates human development by taking into account life expectancy, literacy and standard of living.

So did these alarming numbers cease to matter when placed alongside more upbeat GDP numbers? Was the gloom forgotten - perhaps consciously - in the rah-rah story of India's economic boom? Enter Aravind Adiga's story of a rickshawallah's move from the "darkness" of rural india to the "light" of urban Gurgaon to remind us of the harsh facts behind the fiction. Amid the call centres, the 360,000,004 gods, the shopping malls and the crippling traffic jams, Adiga's protagonist encounters modern India. ''The cars of the rich go like dark eggs down the roads of Delhi. Every now and then an egg will crack open and a woman's hand, dazzling with gold bangles, stretches out of an open window, flings an empty mineral water bottle onto the road and then the window goes up, and the egg is resealed.''

So tightly that the bleaker realities stay out. Inequality and injustice have always been around us, points out human rights activist Harsh Mander. ''But what makes these times that we live in, distinct, is that it does not seem even to cause outrage any longer,'' he says. ''It does not worry us that half our children are still malnourished, or that 200 million people sleep hungry each night; that access to quality schooling still depends on the wealth and social standing of the family into which one is born; that thousands of children sleep in bitter winter cold on dirty pavements under the open sky; that an illness in the household can mean permanent pauperisation of the entire family; that women work the hardest but are paid the least; and that Dalits and minorities fear for not just the consequences of deprivation but also of organised hate. We seem to have collectively resolved to exile impoverished people even from our conscience and consciousness,'' he says.

In contrast, the lavish lifestyles of the rich are celebrated. ''Little wonder that social discontent has been rising. In fact, the only thing to be surprised about is that there is very little violence around us,'' says Satish Deshpande, professor of sociology at the Delhi School of Economics.

Will it always stay like that? ''It's been 60 years since Independence and the impatience is rising,'' points out Deshpande. After all, reading about India's chronic development deficiencies is one thing, living with them entirely another.

Dr. Lenin (Ashoka Fellow and 2007 Gwanju Human Rights Awardee)
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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The May Citizen Documentary Photographer Report 2008

Culture and Solidarity Team of the May 18 Memorial Foundation is holding an exhibition at the 518 gallery from October 7 – 31, 2008. The exhibition is different like the usual, because the photographers are the citizens who were educated by the Foundation.

Every year the Foundation opens an opportunity for Gwangju citizens who have interest in photography and the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising. The program is ‘The May Citizen Documentary Photographer Academy’.

The program started last year in 2007. Last March, 2008 there were around 50 citizens who applied for the program. The Foundation chose 30 mostly senior citizens and married. Twice a week they have education session at the video room of the Foundation that run for 6 months.

On August, 2008 the education finished. Each of them were given a task to take photos and its corresponding information. There are 26 pictures being exhibited at the 518 gallery. The theme is everything in society, like human rights, democracy, peace, daily life, etc. The pictures are many kinds: candle light demonstration, farming activities, situation at the market, women activities, etc.

The aim of this program is to keep the spirit, struggle, and bravery of the professional photographers who took pictures during the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising. In that time, it was a difficult for them to take pictures, but they could made memories with their pictures that people can see and learn until now. They made the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising refer to as post history of Gwangju in other cities and countries.

Even if the theme is general but every person must have a goal for their pictures. How they could convey the message and it can change opinion or life of other people who see them. How the pictures could change the society being good societies. It was not an easy work for them as general people (citizens).

On the opening ceremony, October 7 at 5 PM, the Chairman of the May 18 Memorial Foundation, Mr. Yun Kwang Jang, gave a graduation certificate to Mr. Choi Jeong Hwan as a representative of the class/students. He was the leader of the class/students. During the education, the students choose him as their leader. Other students also got the graduation certificate as a reward of their work to keep the spirit and struggle of the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising.

On his speech, as a representative of the class/students, Mr. Choi Jeong Hwan said thank you for the May 18 Memorial Foundation, their teacher include Mr. Park Cheung as a coordinator of this program.

On its program and activities, the Foundation is covers different classes of the society like the students (elementary, middle, and high school), university student, and the public in general.

The education of the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising is not only from the class, but they can also learn it with developing a hobby like photography.

Congratulations to all the students…

link: www.518.org

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

USA Intern Volunteers Presentation

On August 2008, 7 intern volunteers from USA came back to Gwangju, South Korea.

The USA intern volunteers made their presentation on last September 26, 2008. The program started at 4.30 PM. The chairman, Mr. Yun Kwang Gwan gave his opening remarks.

Below was the order of presentation:
1. Ryu Jei Jun / Korean American Resource and Cultural Center
2. Park Hun Mo / Korean American Resource and Cultural Center
3. Yang In Hwa / Rainbow Center, Inc
4. Kim Seng / Rainbow Center, Inc
5. Kim Ha Na / Rainbow Center, Inc
6. Yim Kwang Jun / Korean Resource Center
7. Chui Ha Na / Korean Resource Center

Some family members, parents, siblings of intern volunteers came and gave support to their children’s presentation. The parents were very proud with their children and the support from the parent is important.

Yang In Hwa, the youngest intern volunteers in USA. She was just 21 years old when she became an intern at Rainbow Center, USA. For her, the internship program was a step for her growing up. First time she arrived at Rainbow Center, she felt inept. Time goes by and after 2 weeks, she felt like real member and enjoyed her time. In her internship program, she saw and was touched with the struggle and sacrifices of some people who shared with the others who are in need of help.

The Sisters would cook for us rather than themselves, the participants in the alteration and tailoring class took turns preparing snacks for the class and sharing them together, and other good examples. She was surprised when seeing Korean Americans who were, themselves struggling to make a living in a foreign land, support, and make donations to share with other Korean Americans who are less fortunate. She considers it as a precious time being an intern at the Rainbow Center. She learned to be a person who can share her time and energy like other volunteers does.

Kyung Choi was an intern also at Rainbow Center. On September 4, 2007 it was a historical day for her. At that day, Rainbow Center held a documentary film screening. She watched the movies “And Thereafter” and “Me and Owl”. First movie was a story about a Korean military bride, and the second story was about an American military camp town sex-workers in Korea. Before she watched the 2 movies her premise was help interracially married Korean women in crisis at Rainbow Center, but it changed. Two weeks as an intern, she did not know what to do and learn. Little by little, she felt and learn precious things.

The internship program changed the opinion and thinking patterns of most of the volunteers in Asia and USA. It is a good program for the students and youth to see and feel life in other country which is different culture from theirs. As interns, they work at the NGO who serve for other people who need their love and care.

This year, there were 5 volunteers sent to USA. We hope that their internship will also create an impact in their lives to become better person.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Application at SungKongHoe University (SKHU) MAINS Program

Our cooperation in Master of Arts in Inter-Asia NGO Studies (MAINS)

In partnership with the Sungkonghoe University, The May 18 Memorial Foundation provides scholarship to five (5) NGO activists in Asia. They were chosen based on their performance and participation in the Gwangju Asian Human Rights Folk School. This program called Masters of Arts in Inter-Asia NGO Studies (MAINS) has a multidisciplinary curriculum, integrating academic and practitioners' training with dynamic changes occurring in Asia and the globe. It is unique in the field of studies on social changes, non-governmental organizations and civil society. The curriculum covers a wide range of current issues of international relations from both regional and global perspectives as a major field of studies.


Master of Arts in Inter-Asia NGO Studies (MAINS)

MAINS is jointly offered by the Inter-Asia Graduate School of NGO Studies at SungKongHoe University and the Asian Regional Exchange for New Alternatives.

Its multidisciplinary curriculum, integrating academic and practitioners' training with dynamic changes occurring in Asia and the globe, is unique in the field of studies on social changes, non-governmental organizations and civil society. The curriculum covers a wide range of current issues of international relations from both regional and global perspectives as a major field of studies, placing a special focus on the development of solidarity among civil society constituents.

MAINS is intended for the people who have been contributing or have the potential to contribute to a better understanding of or leading social changes in Asia. Benefiting from both academic and practical resources offered by two distinct host institutions, MAINS offers both intense and flexible preparation for either those seeking leadership and skills for more just and equitable social changes in Asia, or those seeking further studies in the field.

Inter-Asia Graduate School of NGO Studies (IGSONS)

Previously named Department of NGO Studies, this master's degree course was first established in 1998 to offer graduate training in the NGO field. The department is a unique academic institution in many ways. Not only is it the first university institution of its kind in Korea, but it has been at the forefront of bridging the world of practitioners with that of scholars. Since its inception, the department has generated keen interest from both academia and the public alike.

Asian Regional Exchange for New Alternatives (ARENA)

ARENA is a regional network of concerned Asian scholars which aims to contribute to a process of awakening towards meaningful and people-oriented social change. ARENA draws its members from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong SAR, China, Australia and the US.

ARENA's official website: www.arenaonline.org


Dean of IGSONS
Prof. Oh Jae-shik

MAINS Programme Faculty
Honorary Chair: Dr. Kinhide Mushakoji
Co-Directors: Professor Mohiuddin Ahmad and Dr. Hur Song-woo

Teaching Advisory Board
Chang, Dae-Up (Research Professor, Hong Kong University)
Chen, Kuan-Hsing (Tsing-Hua University, Editor of Inter-Asia Cultural Studies Movement)
Cho, Jin-Tae (General Secretary, The 18 May Memorial Foundation)
Dr. Gosh, Jayati (India. Focus on the Global South)
Guerreoro, Dorothy (Focus on the Global South)
Lee, Chang-Hee (Senior Specialist on Industrial Relations and Social Dialogue, ILO Beijing Office)
Lee, SungHoon (General Secretary, Forum Asia)

Board of Teaching and Resource Persons
Hur, Song-woo (Gender Studies, SKHU)
Kaoru, Aoyama (Gender Studies, People’s Plan Study Group, Japan)
Lau, Kin Chi (Cultural Studies, Lingnan Univ. Hong Kong)
Lee, Francis Daehoon (Peace Studies, executive director, ARENA)
Lee, Jung-ok (Sociology, Daegu Catholic University)
Loh, Francis (Political Studies, University Sains Malaysia)
Mohuiddin, Ahmad (Economics, Community Development Library, Bangladesh)
Nimalka, Fernando (Lawyer, Democratic People’s Movement, Sri Lanka)
Park, Kyung-tae (Sociology, SKHU)
Saravanmuttu, Johan (Visiting Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore)
Tadem, Eduardo C. (Asian Studies, Asian Center, University of the Philippines)
Vinod, Raina (People’s Science Movement, India)

SungKongHoe University Faculty
Cho, Hee-yeon (Sociology)
Cho, Hyoje (Sociology)
Kim, Min-woong (International Relations)
Lee, Chong-Koo (Sociology)
Lee, Gi-ho (Political Studies)
Lee, Sang-Chul (Sociology)
Park, Eun-Hong (Sociology)
Kim, Yu-Soon (Social Welfare)
Ko, Byung-Hun (Humanities)
Shin, Hyun-Joon (Society and Culture)
Kim, Eun-Kyu (Theology)
Kwon, Jin-Kwan (Theology)
Jin, Young-Jong (English)
Jang, Hwa-Kyung (Japanese Studies)
Yang, Ki-Ho (Japanese Studies)
Jang, Young-Soek (Chinese Studies)
Paik, Won-Dam (Chinese Studies)

For more information and download application from please visit in this link:


SungKongHoe University (SKHU)
Master of Arts in Inter-Asia NGO Studies
# Application Deadline : by the end of November 16th

# Notification of Admission (by phone and E-mail): In November

Monday, October 06, 2008

Asia Intern Volunteers Presentation

The May 18 Memorial Foundation is a non-profit organization established on August 30th, 1994 by the surviving victims of the 1980 Gwangju Uprising, the victims families, and the citizens of Gwangju.

The Foundation aims to:
1. Commemorate as well as continue the spirit of struggle and solidarity of the May 18 Uprising;
2. Contribute to the peaceful reunification of Korea;
3. Work towards peace and human rights throughout the world.

Since its establishment, the Foundation has carried out numerous projects in various fields, including organizing memorial events, establishing scholarships, fostering research, disseminating information to the public, publishing relevant materials, dispensing charity and welfare benefits, building international solidarity, and awarding The Gwangju prize for Human Rights.

The Foundation opens an opportunity for students and youth to become volunteer. Twice each year they can apply to the Foundation. This is one way to introduce and continue the spirit of struggle and solidarity of the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising by the student and youth as the next generation.

The volunteers were involved with the Foundation’s activities (domestic and international events), like: the Gwangju International Peace Forum, the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights, the Nanjang-Human-Free Concert, Red Festa, etc.

The Foundation also provides program for the volunteers. One of the programs is an opportunity for the volunteers to be sent abroad and work as an intern with NGO in Asia and USA. At least 10 volunteers are sent each year through a process of selection.

Last June 27, 2008 at 4 PM until 6.30 PM, the former intern volunteers made their presentation at the video room. They presented a situation in the country they were assigned and their work at NGO in each country; including their feelings. With their presentation, they were able to share their experiences to other volunteers and staff of the Foundation.

The Chairman, Mr. Yun Kwang Gwan, gave his opening remarks. There were around 30 volunteers who came including the Asia intern volunteers. After each intern volunteers’ presentation, the floor was opened for questions and answers.

These are the summary from each intern volunteers:

I. Hwang Jiyeon

Through the internship program, the May 18 Memorial Foundation dispatched student volunteer to the Urban Poor Consortium (UPC), where I have worked as an intern until May, 2008. The UPC is an NGO in Indonesia that works with the urban poor and other marginalized groups and international volunteers to solve Indonesian urban poverty problems. To defend the rights of the urban poor, it aims to develop strong people's organizations and networks, through which they can reclaim their right to live healthy and safely as human beings in the City of Jakarta.
The goal of UPC is grassroots empowerment through advocacy, organizing and networking. The grassroots organizing programs is divided into alternative health care, children's learning and saving through garbage recycling. There are 32 communities managed by the UPC in Jakarta.
I would like to be of help to children in the urban poor communities and work with the members of children's learning groups. I usually visited the children's learning groups in 19 poor communities in Jakarta and participated in weekly meetings in the communities with teachers from each children's learning group. I started to investigate child abuse problems in poor families. I hope my research data could be adopted to improve children's condition in urban poor families.

II. Chohee

Chohee’s presentation was divided into 3 parts, which were:
1. What is Forum-Asia. This part told about the organization.
2. As an Intern at the Forum-Asia and Earthright International for 8 months.
3. Other activities in Thailand.
Chohee shared all her experiences in Thailand. She was happy because she could share with other people.

III. Kim Yo An

Yoan was an intern at EMPOWER, Malaysia. Yoan’s presentation was divided into 2 parts, which were:
1. General introduction Malaysia and specific human rights situation of Malaysia.
2. Local NGOs dealing with those specific human rights situation.
As an intern, Yoan helped the creation of EMPOWER’s website and other works.

IV. Kang Donghun

Nepal has been setting up the peace process since the agreement on the cease-fire of civil war between government and Maoists. Moreover, it decided to demolish old monarchy and to become a democratic republican country after the Constituent assembly election. People in Nepal, however, are still suffering various types of human rights violations such as bomb explosion, beating, human trafficking, abduction, murder and displacement, etc.
Due to Maoists’ winning on the Constituent assembly election; they have been accused of violating human rights for the last 10 years, the international communities are concerned with their human rights records.
INSEC has been working for the establishment of peace and stable political condition in Nepal as an advisory organization for 20 years and mostly concentrated on the election during my internship, in 2007 and 2008.
I had been assigned for CAAFAG (Children Affiliated with Armed Forces and Armed Groups) at first. I participated in many group meetings and was trained in some programs relating to the issue. Moreover, I was sent to some districts to interview human rights activists and children and to contingents of Maoists in Dang.
The other main affair was working as an international observer for the Constituent assembly election. Since the release of the code of conduct for the election, I and interns in INSEC have monitored and researched on the election. Once I was dispatched to Rolpa, the original place of Maoist, for a fact-finding mission when two cadres of Maoists were murdered by unidentified group.

For this year, the Foundation sent 11 volunteer abroad. As the next generation, the volunteer have responsibility for keep and always commemorate the history of the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising. They must understand what is happening in Asia and relate it with the ideas of May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising.

Intern volunteers from USA (7 people) will come on August 2008 and they will also make their presentation.


Letter to NHRC


The Chairperson
National Human Rights Commission
New Delhi

Subject : In relation to dispossession of applicant Doodh Nath Pal from his residence by village head and not re-allotment of land to him.

Respected sir
This is to bring in your kind notice that applicant Doodh Nath Pal aged about 45 years son of Late Kharpattu is the resident of Village Gokulpur, Post-Harhuaa, Police Station – Badagoan , District – Varanasi. He lived along with his family in a hut which was constructed over the land of Gram Sabha. His family comprises his wife Chirounji Devi aged about 40 years his children Soni aged about 14 years, Natthu Pal aged about 8 years, Kavita ,aged about 4, and Namita years aged about 2½ years. He earned his livelihood by daily wages labour.

On 11/08/08 the village head Shiv Shakti Singh alias Rajan Singh demolished the hut of the applicant along with his companion and Lekhpal. They made the land plane with tractor. At that time it was raining heavily and his house hold articles were being damaged due to rain. His family became homeless. Even they had no place to cook food. His children became dependent over the mid day meal for food.

He had made complaint in written to SO of police station Badagoan, SSP-Varanasi, District Magistrate – Varanasi, Commissioner Varanasi Division, and Inspector General Varanasi Zone, but no one had paid heed to the plight of applicant. Even the SO of police station Badagoan abused him and threatened him to put in prison in a fake case. After becoming penniless he sat on protest at District Head Quarter along with his family. When the health of his two children Kavita and Namita became deteriorating, the SDM First admitted them in Pandit Din Dayal Governmental Hospital. They were under treatment there for four days. Since his problem of residence was still unsolved, so he sat on protest again along with his family. At least the SDM Pindra came to him and assured him allot land for his residence. He ended his protest and waited till 11/09/08, but no action was taken from the side of administration. Again he sat on protest along with his family on 12/09/08. The Chouki In charge of Kuchary admonished him not to sit on protest at night.

On 22/09/08 the SDM Pindra came to him and assured him to allot land for his residence due to pressure exerted by media. On the same day the SDM Pindra ordered to Kanoongo and Lekhpal on phone to measure the land to allot the applicant. At the same the health of his child Namita became deteriorating due to malnourishment. So she was admitted to Pandit Din Dayal Governmental Hospital. On 23/09/08 the SDM Pindra came to the hospital and assured the applicant that he would be allotted two biswas of land as soon as he would be discharged from hospital. At the same time he had given Rs 100/ as financial assistance to his family.

On 25/09/08, when he had been released from hospital, he approached to Lekhpal and asked for allotment of land. The said Lekhpal replied that he was preparing related document and he would measure the land on 26/09/08 after preparation of those related document. Again when he contacted to Kanoongo in morning of 26/09/08, he said that he was participating in funeral, so the land for applicant would be measured on the on 28/09/08. When in the morning of 28/09/08 at about 08:00 am the applicant contacted to SDM Pindra, Kanoongo, Lekhpal on phone, all of them assured that his land would be measured at 02:00 pm on the same day. The applicant had waited till two ‘o’ clock. Having seen no response from the side of administration he contacted to SDM Pindra on phone and asked for measurement, he advised the applicant to contact to District Magistrate. When the applicant asked the number of District Magistrate, the SDM Pindra showed his inability and had not given the number. When he asked about the matter to Kanoongo, he said that the SDM Pindra had refused to measure the land.

In entire matter the role of administration can not be understood. On one hand they assured him to allot the land for residence but on the other hand they took back their order. They did not give any explanations for cancellation of their order. It seems that the SDM Pindra assured to allot the land only to finish his protest. He never had intention to allot the land to the applicant. However, in entire matter the family of the applicant suffered allot. He is very poor and belongs to other backward community. The applicant and his family have been deprived from their basic needs i.e. food, shelter. His two children Soni, and Natthu Pal are studying in primary school, their study were badly affected in whole episode. So their right to education guaranteed by constitution is being violated. It is the duty of state to protect the constitutional rights. Since the applicant has no safe place to reside, so he is bound to sit on protest along with his family. He is compelled to live the nomadic life.

So, therefore it requested politely that ask the appropriate authority to take immediate action to make over relief to the applicant and his family, so that they could be allotted land for residence and become free from nomadic life. His BPL card and job card may be made so that the constitutional and other rights of applicant and his family may be secured and they could be supplied basic needs of life. The children of applicant may get education.

Yours faithfully

(Member core group)

Dr. Lenin Raghuvanshi is being nominee for 2008 ACHA Awards


Tanweer Ahmed Siddiqui (Advocate)
Founder,Citizen Front
J19/66 Badi Bazar, Jaitpura, Varanasi (UP)-221002. India


Dr. Lenin Raghuvanshi
SA 4/2A, Daulatpur,
Varanasi (UP)-221002, India
Telephone: 00-91-542- 2586688, Mobile:+91-9935599333
pvchr@yahoo.com & pvchr.india@gmail.com


ACHA Peace Star Award


Dr. Lenin Raghuvanshi is the symbol of resistance to millions of Dalits fighting for dignity in India. Lenin is credited with changing the discourse on Dalit Politics in India and bringing into focus an innovative “people centric” approach to reclaim human dignity in a caste ridden Indian society. The gamut of Lenin’s activities reflects his personal and ideological span and provides credibility and a sense of completeness to the work he does. His care for details, meticulous planning, diligent patience, and sincere advocacy of the issue of the marginalized, has made millions of his supporters optimistic about a dignified future.

Lenin's views on caste, conflict and social change took shape while he worked with bonded laborers. He was born into a high caste Hindu family which he describes as "feudal." He noticed that not a single child bonded in the sari or carpet industries came from an upper caste, even though some high-caste families were often just as poor as the lower castes. He realized that caste, not class, was at work. By the end of 1996, Lenin was championing the rights of lower-caste people. Early experiences taught him that confrontation was dangerous and not the most effective method. Increasingly, Lenin recognized caste in all kinds of social conflict and envisioned a movement that could break the closed, feudal hierarchies of conservative slums and villages by building up local institutions and supporting them with a high profile and active human rights network.

As a self taught Dalit ideologue, Lenin understood from the beginning that village in India is the cradle of exploitation. Instead of tampering with the symptoms, caste needed to be tackled by both its horns. On the one hand he created a democratized structure for the voiceless to enable them access to the constitutional guarantees of modern India and on the other, his innovative advocacy forced the state to sensitize its mechanisms to deliver social justice in a manner where Justice is not only done but perceived to be done.

Lenin conceived of a folk school which not only enabled empowerment of the poor, but also endowed them with the ability to access information and justice through the constitutional mechanism of the state.

To translate policy into practice, Lenin has begun working on the latest part of his strategy, Jan Mitra Gaon, or the People-Friendly Village. These villages have durable local institutions that work to promote basic human rights in the face of continuous discrimination. Lenin has adopted three villages and one slum as pilot projects, which include reactivating defunct primary schools, eradicating bonded labor, making sure girls get education, and promoting non-formal education. The village committees comprise at least 50 percent Dalits, and seek to realize greater political representation of Dalits on village councils. The heads of the village committee and village council, a government representative, and a PVCHR employee will serve as a conflict resolution group and form the People-Friendly Committee. The approach of the organization is two-fold: to have a strong grassroots organization to work for democratic rights of those in marginalized communities and second, to create the structure and dynamics to receive the assistance of national and international institutions.

Lenin's work marks a shift in the Indian human rights movement, which has been reluctant to address injustices in the name of caste as a fundamental human rights issue. He is one of only a handful of activists to declare that such discrimination goes against democratic principles by promoting inequality. By working from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh“one of the most traditional, conservative, and segregated regions in India Lenin demonstrates his resolve.

With meager resources, but rich with confidence and conviction, Lenin in a short period of time has managed to amplify the voice of the marginalized in national and international fora through “Peoples SAARC”, rehabilitation and resettlement of weavers of Varanasi; Benaras Convention; UP Assembly Election Watch; prevention of torture; voice against hunger and many such activities. Recognition by the international community of Dr Lenin’s work is indeed the recognition for the millions whose hopes and aspirations rest on his slender shoulders.


Born on 18 May 1970 at Varanasi
Mother’s name: Shrimati Savitri Devi
Married to Shruti Nagvanshi on 22 February 1992; has an 8 year old son, Kabir Karunik

Completed his Bachelor degree in Ayurveda, Medicine and Surgery from the State Ayurvedic Medical College, Gurukul Kangari, Haridwar in 1994 with distinction.

1993: President, United Nations’ Youth Organization (UNYO), UP Chapter.

1993: Founded Bachapan Bachao Andolan (Save the Child hood Movement) along with Swami Agnivesh.

1996: Founded People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) along with Shruti, Dr.Mahendra Pratap (Historian),Vikash Maharaj (Musician), Gyanedra Pati (poet) to work on child labour free village.

1998: Organized, coordinated, and participated as Core Marcher in Global March against Child Labour.

1998: Fair Play Campaign against use of child labour in Indian Sporting Goods Industry. The campaign forced FIFA, ICC (International Cricket Council), World Federation of Sporting Goods Industry and Reebok to prohibit use of child labour in producing their goods.

1999: Founded Jan Mitra Nyas, a public charitable trust, for working on governance, and Human Rights in five adopted villages near Varanasi

2001: Awarded the Ashoka Fellowship for social entrepreneurship and change maker from Ashoka: innovators for Public based in Washington, DC

2001: Elected to the Executive Council of Voice of People (VOP, 25000 membership), a state wide people’s alliance for bringing to the fore the politics of marginalized.

2002: Campaigned and mobilized at State and national level for prevention of torture.

2002: Appointed member of District Vigilance committee on Bonded Labour under Bonded Labour abolition Act 1976 by the Governor of UP.

2004: Created Model Village “People Friendly Village” to enable and amplify the voice of the marginalized.

2004: Organized Benaras Convention in order to assert the discourse of politics of marginalized in the national mainstream. The convention attended by thinkers and activists across the nation unanimously declared that the City of Varanasi was the symbol of Shraman Sanskriti (culture of the working class) as opposed to that of the Brahminical Sanskriti (Culture of the feudal class).

2004: Established Bunkar-Dastkar Adhikar Manch (Forum on rights of the weavers and artisans) to give voice to their plight in an organized manner. The forum has membership of 3000 people and has been able to make Planning Commission of India commit Rupees One Thousand crores for their re-habilitation. This body is led by indigenous leaders and is self supporting.

2004: Conceptualized and formed the Varanasi Weavers Trust along with eminent economist and Ashoka fellow from Sri Lanka, Dr. Darin Gunasekara. The trust envisages creation of a democratized mode of production with social control over capital for the weavers. The Planning Commission of India and Government of Uttar Pradesh have taken note of the objective of the trust and are in the process of giving shape to the idea respectively.

2004: Founded the Musahar-Nut Adhikar Manch (Forum on rights of Musahars and Nuts; Musahars and Nuts are the most marginalized untouchable caste) in the hunger infested districts of eastern Uttar Pradesh. Advocacy at national and international fora has succeeded in prioritizing hunger in Government expenditure policy. Active mobilization of the poor Dalit has forced political parties to include the improvement of Dalit in their electoral manifesto. The liberation from social inhibitions has resulted in creation of Martyr’s domes in village where hunger deaths occurred and has created a pool of indigenous hunger activists among the poor. The District administration of Varanasi has sought Rupees 6.75 crores to fight hunger situation of Musahars in the district. As a result of PVCHR’s pressure the UP Panchayat Act was amended to include a clause which directed each local self Government of village to hold a fund of Rupees one thousand to mitigate emergency hunger situation.

2005: Conceived and convened People’s SAARC at Varanasi. The objective was to bring together the issues of the people of SAARC countries to the forefront and establish a people to people relationship to fight caste, communal, ethnic, and fascist forces in the region. The most important declaration read, “We cherish and uphold the Rule of Law, sovereignty of the people, a system of governance that ensures devolution of power, People' right to self rule and control over resources.”� Convention is resulted in South Asian People’s Forum (SAPF) of which Dr. Lenin was elected the coordinator. The core committee comprised of PVCHR (India), INSEC (Nepal), People’s Forum for Human Rights (Bhutan), Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, LOKOJ (Bangladesh) and Wiros Lokh Institute (Sri Lanka).This convention triggered off a series of similar convention across the SAARC countries. Two major outcomes of the convention were inclusion of Afghanistan in the SAARC, and in the Dhaka declaration in 2005 SAARC summit inclusion of civil society voice in the decision making process.

2006: Founded Rozagar Haq Abhiyan (Right to work campaign) along with AIM, Parmarth, GSS, Musahar Manch for monitoring implementation of National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) in UP.

2006: PVCHR work on torture victims resulted in Dr. Lenin being appointed State Director of National Project on Prevention of Torture funded by European Union.

2006: In the context of international advocacy along with AHRC, PVCHR achieved the rare distinction of being reported by the UN special rappoteur on Racism and Xenophobia. In the same year three out of four reported cases from India in the report of representative of Secretary General for Human Rights defenders were from PVCHR.

2007: Drafted along with Faisal Anurag the vision paper for NAFRE Peoples™ Movement, an alliance of representative from 16 states of India. This paper presented a road map for civil society movement drawing from the traditional working class past of India from the perspective of caste.

2007: Established Folk School for Dalit in Belwa

2007: PVCHR and Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) along with 210 NGOs across the state conducted the UP Election watch (UPEW). The objective was to sensitize the electors about the governance processes. By providing background information of candidates UPEW facilitated informed choice of the citizens of UP. Dr. Lenin, coordinator of UPEW, successfully ran a media campaign and managed to bring the issue of criminalization of politics to the center stage.

2007: received 2007 Gwangju Human Rights Award from May 18 Foundation of South Korea along with Ms. Sharmila Irom of Manipur .


Dr. Lenin in his carrier has faced several obstacles from state and society :

· On 17 July 1996 the Para Military Forces subjected Dr.Lenin to severe beatings with rifle butts while leading a demonstration for rehabilitation of freed bonded dalit and child laborers and land allotment of Gram Sabha in favour of landless dalit of Indrawar village of Varanasi. This case of beating was raised by Amnesty International.

· Dr. Lenin’s brother was murdered by his relatives because of his views on caste politics in 1996.

· In 1998 state police tried to malign Dr. Lenins™ reputation by a fake encounter at his parental residence. His family was coerced to make statement implicating him in the case. The case was disposed of by NHRC after reviewing the details.

· .Dr. Lenin received death threat in pursuance of people™s democratic right at pachayat level in village Belwa of Varanasi in August 2006.


1. Justice Sukumaran “ Rtd.Judge, High Court of Kerela & Bombay.
India’s hope for the future rests in the selfless services of activists who are informed, involved and idealistic. Earth, Earthly “like the worms, which enrich the land some, are as Churchill put it “glow worms”. They show the way amidst encircling glow. I had the great privilege to spend a few hours with those great missionaries of the new century “ a unique luck; I deem it. Dated 18.2.2002.

2. Justice Zakaria Mohd. Yacoob , Sitting Judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa & Chancellor of Durban “ Westville.
PVCHR does wonderful work under very difficult circumstances. We are proud to be associated with you “India & the World need more of such Workers. Good Luck Zak Yacoob & Anu Yacoob. Dated 9.5.2002.

3. Otto Tausig, Austrian Film Actor
On some occasion I am wearing the T-shirt you gave me for the purpose that people should ask me whose face is it showing. Then I tell them in a country far away from our own there are people like Safdar Hashmi & Dr.Lenin who were and who are fighting for things worth fighting for and we too should work for a better world.� My thoughts are with you and my best wishes for the success of your work. It’s the same cause you and I are working for. There is hunger, exploitation and disregard of human and child rights all over the world but also a growing understanding that we have to globalize the fight against it.�

4. Mr.Vishwanath Singh, Regional Secretary, Vigil India Movement
Dr Lenin is to empower the victims to restore a balance of Power in society between economic and other forces. He is facilitating the participation and increasing the International and National bargaining powers of Poor, of the labor, environmental & other social movements. He protects traditional wisdom & knowledge. Dr.Lenin gives people a sense of their own power. He mobilizes the power that people have in doing so, he teaches the value of united action through real life example, and build the self-confidence of both the organization and individuals in it. He avoids shortcuts that don’t build people’s powers, such as bringing in lawyer to handle the problem, asking friendly politicians to take care of it or turning it over to a Government Agency.

5. Dominique Lapierre (Author-Freedom at Midnight & City of Joy)& social activist
The World needs great voices like those of PVCHR shouting for Human Dignity�.

6. Summa Josson, a Film Director of Bombay specializing in Documentary Films on Social issues
India is on the cross - roads. The future of India lies in the hands of people like you. It makes me feel that there is still some hope left�

Web linkage about Lenin and PVCHR