India has great history of faceless warriors who fought for social cause with great courage by going against the system and died without getting any recognition. Kinkri Devi, an illiterate and impoverished woman, battled a long and somewhat successful fight against the illegal mining and quarrying in the mountainous in Himachal Pradesh.
Devi died on Dec. 30 in Chandigarh at the age of 82. She is survived by a son and 12 grandchildren. She was illiterate but fought a long campaign for opening a degree college in Sangrah village where she lived for most of her life. She once had said:
It wasn’t in my destiny to study but I don’t want others to suffer the way I did for want of education.
She was born in a Dalit family in the village in 1925. Despite coming from a poor farmer family, she struggled against powerful and politically connected mining mafia in the state. Her husband had died of typhoid when she was just 22. She later became a sweeper to earn living.
When she saw unrestrained excavating despoiled the fabled hills in many parts state, disrupting the water supply and damaging the rich paddy fields, she vowed to take on the mining mafias all alone.
Later, she got support of ‘People’s Action for People in Need’, a local NGO and filed a Public Interest Litigation in Shimla High Court of Shimla against 48 mine owners. She accused them of doing irresponsible limestone quarrying in various parts of the state. On the other hand, the quarry owners criticized her and blamed her for trying to blackmail them.
When no one responded to her suit filed in the high court, she went for 19-day hunger strike outside the court in Shimla. Later, the court took notice to her PIL and agreed to take up the issue. This victory won her national and international headlines when the high court ordered a stay on mining in state. The court also imposed a complete ban on blasting in the hilly areas.
The mine owners even threatened to kill her and appealed to the Supreme Court against the high court decision. The apex court also ruled against them in July 1995 and gave Devi a due recognition for her battle.
Devi, who was still a sweeper, was invited in the International Women’s Conference in Beijing in 1995 because of the enthusiastic interest taken by Hillary Clinton in her battle in India.
Her trip to China was sponsored by a private organization and Clinton had asked her to light the lamp at the inaugural function. It was a great honor for her at an international meeting. She even addressed the dignitaries present in the meeting and said how she fought battle to save the environment in the Himalayan region.