Saturday, March 22, 2003
M A I N   F E A T U R E



ZEROING IN ON...
The aging yet tireless environmental crusader
Ravi Bali

Kinkeri DeviSHE is a small woman who took on the big and the mighty. She is frail and aged but she has set her sights on the hurculean task of creating a healthy environment for generations to come. She is illiterate but knowledgeable enough to persuade the Himachal Pradesh High Court to take action against indiscriminate mining in the state.

Kinkeri Devi is the daughter of late Kalia Kumar and Shabnkri Devi. She belongs to Ghato village which lies in Sangrah valley, about 62 Km from Nahan in Sirmaur. The famous Renukaji lake is just 27 kms away. The ideal environment had been polluted by heavy mining and the local population was suffering from its affect. But none dared to raise his voice till Kinkeri launched her crusade against the 'mine mafia.'

It was in 1985 that Kinkeri had an opportunity of attending a basic awareness camp. The camp lasted for 10 days. This proved to be a boon in Kinkeriís life, and also acted as a catalyst in defining her views on environmental pollution.

 

The local mines in the Sangrah valley came on her agenda and she literally declared a war against them. She started gathering people and told them about the devastating effects that the pollution had on humans as well as the flora and fauna. However, in the beginning Kinkeri was not very successful in mobilising public opinion against the mines.

She usually told the local village folk that they should open their eyes and see that thousands of trees have been cut, and heavy landslides were taking place due to frequent and unscientific mining activity undertaken by eight mines across the Sangrah valley. She pointed out to them that water- borne and other disease had increased in the region and even birds and animals, including livestock, were perishing. The blasting, she said, had denuded the beautiful Sangrah valley and water sources had been polluted.

In 1987, Kinkeri decided to go to the Himachal High Court to seek the closer of the mines in Sangrah valley. She reached Shimla and stayed there for 19 long days. She went to the Department of Industries, the State Mines Department, the State Pollution Control Board and various other departments. Kinkeri says that at some places she was given due respect due to her age but in most of the offices she was treated like a mad, illiterate woman. At some places she was even ridiculed.

"I did not have the money to reach Shimla and stay there for 19 days. Only I know how I managed this money. It was basically through petty savings that I reached Shimla. I did not have money to even eat three square meals a day. To suppress my hunger, I used to tie the dupatta around my stomach. The net result of all this is that even after 14 years, I still tie the dupatta around my stomach. It has become a habit, a part of my life."

During the hearings in the Himachal Pradesh High Court, Kinkeri stood bold like a tigress. She received numerous threats from the mining mafia. "They used to say that only half a truck of crushed stones would be required to cover me and finish my story. But I was not going to back out of my struggle. My last wish was that the mines should be closed."

Kinkeri has been conferred dozens of local, national and international awards. The latest national award was the Jhansi ki Rani Lakshmi Bai Stri Shakti Puraskar presented last year by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. This award was given by the Ministry of Human Resource Development. The award was given to five women doing extraordinary service in different spheres of life. When Kinkeri Devi was called to receive the honour, the entire audience stood up to applaud this illiterate old woman.

When Kinkeri was asked whether at any stage in life she knew that she is going to get dozens of national and international awards, she said with a twinkle in her eye, "I never knew that you get awards for doing all this. I simply didnít know what these awards are. My sole award is to see the mines closed. I will see to it till my last breath that the mines are permanently closed and the people of Sangrah valley live an uncontaminated life."