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Meet The New Faces Of India’s Tribal And Adivasi Activism!

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Indigenous people fighting for their forest and land rights in India is a reality we cannot deny. Tribes  facing discrimination when it comes to land and forest rights is the result of extremist capitalism and pseudo-development strategies. Many activists have fought against external forces, defending their forests and right over land. Let’s take a look at some of the new faces of tribal activism!

Soni Sori

The country was stunned into silence  in 2016 after hearing about the life of Soni Sori. The 41-year-old tribal rights activist has been a fearless and vocal critic of police violence and brutality towards tribals in the state of Chhattisgarh. In 2016, unidentified men attacked her in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region and threw a black acid-like substance on her face. Sori was arrested on the charges of being an intermediary to the Maoists, and she had to face heinous and brutal forms of sexual violence during her time in jail.  She protested against this barbaric and inhuman incident with her which gained people’s attention worldwide, leading to her release. She has indeed inspired Adivasi women to take a stand and speak against the sexual violence and assaults they have endured at the hands of the local police.

In 2018, Soni Sori was a recipient of the 2018 Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk, in recognition of her dangerous struggle for justice for the Adivasi community in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh.

Soni Sori | Image Source-

Dayamani Barla

Dayamani Barla is a journalist in Prabhat Khabar. This fearless tribal journalist from Jharkhand raised her voice against Arcelor Mittal’s steel plant in Eastern Jharkhand that tribal activists say would displace forty villages. “We will not give an inch of our land” says Barla. She founded Jan Hak Patrika to highlight and amplify  the voices of Adivasi, Dalit and women. She is still fighting for Jal, Jungle, Jamin (Water, Forest, Land) of the indigenous people and stated that she will continue to do so. She stands firm against all the terror threats against her. She believes that for one’s own land, water and forest, we must battle. She runs a tea shop, which is her source of livelihood, alongside her journalism. 

Dayamani Barla for Outlook India

Tulasi Munda

Tulasi Munda is an educator and activist from Odisha. She grew up in an age post-independence when  poverty and illiteracy was widespread and no form of education was available for the girl child whatsoever. She believes that the goal of education is to improve lives. Therefore, she dedicated her life to imparting education. She started an informal school in 1964 in Odisha’s iron ore mining area to educate children from local Adivasi communities, who would otherwise have ended up as child labourers in the mines. She still feels discontentment by the lives of tribals, their lost land, joblessness, authorities resentment towards Adivasis and Maoist extremism.

Tulasi Munda, Founder, Adivasi Vikas Samiti School | Image Source:

Jiten Marandi

Jiten,  a cultural activist from Jharkhand, was arrested in 2008 because he shared a name, along with nine others, with Naxal area commander. He said, “While the cops interrogating me for Maoist links admitted that I didn’t seem to know much, it didn’t stop them from branding me as one”. Jiten was falsely accused in all cases because of his active participation in resistance movements in Jharkhand. Since his acquittal, he has joined Utpeedit Bandi Sahyog Samiti, which provides legal assistance to such prisoners who are arrested as alleged Naxalites and Maoists.

Jiten Marandi | Image Source-

Gyarishi Devi

Gyarishi Devi is an activist of the Sahariya tribe and a founding member of the Jagrut Mahila Sangathan (JMS).  Her tribe, alike many other tribes in India, are deprived of education, health and economic facilities. She along with women of her tribe has been fighting the problem of bonded labour and overall neglect of the tribe in Baran district for more than a decade now. Gyarishi Devi and her organisation have associated themselves with Community Information Resource Centres which has enabled women from various parts of the district to raise their problems through video conferencing.

Gyarishi Devi is a founding member of Jagrut Mahila Sangathan helping women to raise voice using CIRC. | Image Source-

Jamuna Tudu

Jamuna Tudu is an Indian environmental activist from the Muturkham village of East Singhbhum, Jharkhand.  Her quest started in 2000 when she gathered all Adivasi women of Maturkham to form a Van Suraksha Samiti against the forest mafia and poachers in Muturkham.  Every Raksha Bandhan she ties rakhis to trees and pledges that she with her team will go on protecting them. She says fear has no meaning for her. She believes that the Forest Rights Act (FRA) needs to be less open-ended by affirming the role of participatory village-level forest rights committee in determining the rules pertaining to community forestland, lest people use it for commercial purposes.

Jamuna was recently awarded India’s fourth highest civilian award, the Padma Shri for her tireless effort to protect the forests. 

Jamuna Tudu, an Indian environmental activist fought against the forest mafia and poachers in Muturkham. | Image Source-

Gladson Dungdung

Gladson Dungdung is a human rights activist writer, founder of the Adivasi Publications, Adivasi Hunkar and the Jharkhand Human Rights Movement.   He belongs to the Kharia community of Jharkhand and is currently based in Ranchi. Through his books, he has addressed human rights issues, including police atrocities, violence against women and gross violation of the rights of indigenous peoples. “Am I a Maoist? Adivasism is not Maoism”, argues Gladson Dungdung. He wrote that the amendments proposed in the colonial-era Indian Forest Act, 1927 reflect the Centre’s attempt to grab natural resources owned by the Adivasis for generations. He is an outspoken critic of governmental policies and amendments pertaining to Adivasis.

Gladson Dungdung | Image Source-

Activism has always been a powerful way to make changes in society. These activists present a bigger picture of the current state of atrocities faced by indigenous people in India. It’s commendable that they sought to transcend the modern domains of state to become a critique of governmental actions that violates the rights of Adivasis. It’s also saddening, however, to state that despite after more than 70 years of independence, tribes are still clustered and tangled in the labyrinth of politics.  Governmental resistance against their basic necessities have forced tribes to stand for their own safety and preservation of their land rights. The need of the hour is to bring their suppressed voices to light and make a befitting place for their opinions.

About the author: Jyotsna Hans is a content writer for Adivasi Lives Matter. She is pursuing her undergraduate degree in law. She is fond of good food, good reads and good places to travel. “Through my articles, I tend to bring all tribal goodness in the limelight,” she says. 

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  1. kru

    Hi, Gyarsi devi pass away last year in July. Please edit the article to reflect that.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

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