India’s Ratnaboli Ray is among four courageous and tireless advocates for human rights who will receive the prestigious Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism for 2016.
Besides Ratnaboli, the other leading voices for justice in their countries are Kalpona Akter (Bangladesh), Pierre Claver Mbonimpa (Burundi) and Yonous Muhammadi (Greece).
Ratnaboli is fighting to move India toward a rights-based system of care for people with mental health conditions while Kalpona Akter is a former child worker in Bangladesh garment factories who organised fellow garment workers to demand fair labour rights.
Pierre Claver Mbonimpa has dedicated his life to denouncing rights violations against prisoners, activists, and people from all social, ethnic, and economic backgrounds in Burundi and Yonous Muhammadi fled the Taliban in Afghanistan after which he was granted asylum in Greece where he become a leading defender of refugee rights.
“The Alison Des Forges Award honours people who have spent their lives defending some of the world’s most oppressed and vulnerable people,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “The honourees work courageously and selflessly every day, often under the most difficult and dangerous conditions.”
The award is named for Dr. Alison Des Forges, senior adviser at Human Rights Watch for almost two decades, who died in a plane crash in New York State on February 12, 2009.
Des Forges was the world’s leading expert on the 1994 Rwanda genocide and its aftermath. The Human Rights Watch annual award honours her outstanding commitment to, and defence of, human rights. It celebrates the valour of people who put their lives on the line to create a world free from abuse, discrimination and oppression.
Who is Ratnaboli Ray
For more than two decades, Ratnaboli has been a leading advocate for the rights of people with mental health conditions in India. She spearheads efforts to halt abuses in government institutions, combat stigma and provide skills training.
Human Rights Watch has honoured Ratnaboli for leading the fight – often at great personal risk – to move India toward a rights-based system of mental health care.
Born into a family of committed social activists, Ratnaboli worked with marginalised communities in West Bengal. After she had a breakdown in 1997, her employer forced her to resign. She has used her personal experience, including wrongfully being locked up in a mental hospital by union organisers trying to intimidate her, to push for a paradigm shift in government mental health institutions.
In 2000, she founded Anjali, a small non-governmental organisation that provides skills training to people with psychosocial disabilities living in government institutions.
Anjali has gained wide recognition for its innovative strategies for systemic change, including successfully challenging the use of solitary confinement and electroshock therapy without consent in West Bengal.
Additionally, Ratnaboli co-founded a national alliance for access to justice for people with mental health conditions. During the course of her career, she has faced considerable resistance and opposition due to the stigma that surrounds psychosocial disabilities in India, and yet continues her work undeterred.