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Protection of Environment of Indian “Untouchable” Woman Environmentalist Kinkri Devi

  • Public Land Law Review
  • Abbr : KPLLR
  • 2008, 40(), pp.199-223
  • Publisher : Korean Public Land Law Association
  • Research Area : Social Science > Law

Moon-Hyun Koh 1

1숭실대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

Indian Woman Environmentalist Kinkri Devi was an illiterate and impoverished woman who had waged a long and at least partly successful fight against illegal mining and quarrying in the mountainous northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. Ms. Devi was born into a poor Dalit, or untouchable, family in the village of Ghaton in 1925. Her father was a subsistence farmer. That she came from a low caste made her struggle against powerful and politically connected mining interests all the more remarkable. With no hope of an education, she began working as a servant in early childhood and, at 14, married Shamu Ram, a bonded laborer. He died of typhoid when she was just 22, and she was forced to become a sweeper. Over the years, she watched the world around her change for the worse. Uncontrolled quarrying by indiscriminate grant of mining lease despoiled the fabled hills in many parts of Himachal Pradesh, harming the water supply and destroying once-rich paddy fields. Seeing the damage in her own district, she vowed to take on the mining interests. Backed by People’s Action for People in Need, a local volunteer group, Ms. Devi filed a public interest lawsuit in the Himachal Pradesh High Court in 1987 against 48 mine owners, accusing them of reckless limestone quarrying. The quarry owners dismissed her campaign, saying she was only trying to blackmail them. After a long period with no response to her suit, she headed for Shimla, the state capital and staged a 19-day hunger strike outside the court until it agreed to take up the issue. The strike won Ms. Devi national and international headlines. In 1987, the High Court not only ordered a stay on mining but also imposed a blanket ban on blasting in the hills. Faced with the prospect of closing their operations, her opponents threatened to kill her, but she continued to fight. The mine owners appealed to the Supreme Court of India, which ruled against them in July 1995, adding to Ms. Devi’s renown. The same year, still working as a sweeper, she was invited to attend the International Women’s Conference in Beijing because of the keen interest taken in her by Hillary Rodham Clinton, then the first lady. A private organization sponsored her trip to China, where Mrs. Clinton asked her to light the lamp at the inaugural function. She spoke to thunderous applause about how the enchanting Himalayas were being degraded by illegal limestone quarrying and how it was up to ordinary people like her to save the environment. Ms. Devi could neither read nor write and learned to sign her name in Hindi just a few years ago. But this handicap could never dampen her spirit to protect the area from degradation. Instead, she started a campaign to open a college in Sangrah, the village where she spent most of her life. Though her village has a school, those who want to study further have to travel 65 kilometres to Nahan, where the nearest college is located. “It wasn’t in my destiny to study,” she said, “but I don’t want others to suffer the way I did for want of education.” Even today her will to environment reminds Indian People of realization of Constitution of India Article 51A(g).

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