KARACHI, May 24:
The Jury appointed by Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) to decide the nominations for first Didi Nirmala Deshpande South Asian Peace and Justice Award for 2013 announced on Friday to confer the award on Ms. Sunila Abeysekera, a leading women’s human rights defender in Sri Lanka and South Asia, and a major player in the global women’s movement.
To give the award as a mark of abiding respect for Didi Nirmala Deshpande and a permanent tribute to her service to humanity, Pakistan Labour Trust (PLT), an associate of PILER, had instituted the award, which carries an amount of Rs. 1 million or US$ 10,000.
Sunila is currently based at the Institute for Social Studies in The Netherlands as the recipient of a Scholars At Risk fellowship. These fellowships are awarded to individuals who face potential violence in their own country as a result of their human rights work. Her work has been recognized through many awards, including UN Human Rights Prize from Kofi Annan and the 2008 Human Rights Defender Award from Human Rights Watch.
Sunila has lived a courageous life on the forefront of many social movements, fighting relentlessly for justice and human rights--for women and on behalf of all those who experience identity-based discrimination, persecution and marginalization. She has nurtured and supported countless women and men of all ages the world over, inspiring many-both directly and by example-to challenge abusive authority at the local, national and international levels.
Her work highlighting state and non-state violations during the last years of Sri Lanka’s ethnic war in 2009/2010 compelled Sunila to leave the country, and she is currently living in the Netherlands.
Sunila was diagnosed with late stage cancer in the Netherlands in November 2012 and has been receiving treatment there. What Sunila is facing now is the lot of many other activists--whose lives fighting for social justice often precludes their ability to focus on their own well-being and financial security.
While announcing the award, Executive Director of PILER Karamat Ali congratulated Ms. Sunila for the award which has been instituted in memory of Didi Nimrmala Deshpande, a crusader for peace and friendship between Pakistan and India.
An enlightened soul, Didi began her tryst with destiny in 1952 when she joined the land donation ‘bhoodan’ movement led by the renowned Gandhian Acharya Vinobha Bhave and traveled more than 40,000 kilometers on foot, covering the length and breadth of India, asking for land donations. In the process she acquired a deep insight into the miserable conditions of the rural poor and the myriad problems they faced. This experience later on led her to establish the Akhil Bharat Rachnatmak Samaj – a Federation of Gandhian Institutions and Social Workers – and dedicate her entire life to the service of the poverty-stricken and the most deprived and marginalized sections of society, without distinction of caste, creed, religion, race, colour or gender.