“Physical bravery is an animal instinct; moral bravery is much higher and truer courage” as said by Wendell Phillips had been truly proved by this Indian activist and environmentalist, who was best known for waging a war on illegal mining and quarrying in her native state of Himachal Pradesh. She never knew how to read or write and learnt how to sign her name a few years before her death.
Kinkri Devi, an illiterate and impoverished woman had launched a long and at least partly successful fight against illegal mining and quarrying in the mountainous northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. Ms. Kinkri Devi was born in the village of Ghaton in Sirmaur district in 1925. Her Father was a subsistence farmer from Dalits . With almost no hope of education, Ms. Devi began working as a servant during her early childhood and married a bonded labourer Shamu Ram at the age of 14. Ram died of typhoid fever when she was just 22, and she was forced to become a sweeper. Over the years, she watched the world around her changing to the worse as the uncontrolled quarrying despoiled the fabled hills in many parts of Himachal Pradesh, harming the water supply and destroying once-rich paddy fields. Later on watching this damage in her own district, she vowed to take on the mining interests.
A local volunteering group named “People’s Action for People in Need”, backed Ms. Kinkri Devi as she filed a public interest lawsuit (PIL) in the High Court of Shimla against 48 mine owners. Her suit got virtually no response at first, so she went on a 19-day hunger strike outside the court. When the court decided to take up the issue, Ms. Devi had become a national celebrity. Finally, the court ordered in 1987 a stay on mining and imposed a blanket ban on blasting in her beloved hills. The mine owners appealed to the Supreme Court of India, who rejected their appeal in July 1995. The same year while she was 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 organisation 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, who could neither read nor write and learnt to sign her name just a few years ago, also waged a long campaign for opening a degree-granting college in Sangrah, the village where she spent most of her life.
Coming from a lower sections of society made Kinkri Devi’s life a struggle against powerful and politically connected mining interests all the more remarkable. But she was a portrait of bravery that didn’t have any fears against the threats she received from political forces. Her brave heart set a change of fortune for Himachal Pradesh. In spite of being illiterate, she gave an extravagant share towards the betterment of her native place which became an inspiration for many. And Kinkri Devi was later honoured with Stree Shakti Award. The award was presented by the then Prime Minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. She died on December 30, 2007 in Chandigarh, India. The eco worker was a great visionary and made effort for girl child literacy in the most backward district. Her followers still believes in her slogan, “Jal, jungle, pahar ko bachao” (Save water, forests and hills). Bravery of her soul remains open to many of us today who are working hard to make better situations in favour of the environment.