First Kamala Bhasin Award for Gender Equality shared by a Nepali and Indian Crusader

New Delhi: The first ever Kamla Bhasin (South Asia) Award for Driving the World towards Gender Equality has been given to two crusaders, one from Nepal and another from India, for their continued crusade for the rights of women and transgender respectively.

Natisara Rai from Nepal and Vidya Rajput from India are the first recipients of the award named after feminist activist, poet and author Kamla Bhasin, who passed away in September 2021. Bhasin was a prominent voice in the women’s movement in India and other South Asian countries. Each recipient will receive Rs 1,00,000 (INR).

The winners were selected by a five-member jury chaired by Anu Aga. “It has been a privilege to chair the jury for the inaugural Kamla Bhasin Award. The high quality of applications made the task of the jury extremely challenging and I am delighted that we could pick two clear winners whose life and work embody the spirit of what Kamla stood for,” Aga said.

The other jury members were Khushi Kabir (Bangladesh), Binda Pandey (Nepal), Salil Shetty (India) and Namita Bhandare (India).

Rai, according to the press release on the award, is the co-founder and executive director of the Shakti Milan Samaaj (SMS). She was forced into sex work at the age of 13, and despite herself being a HIV positive, her organisation supports more than a thousand HIV positive women in Nepal enabling them to access healthcare, dignified work and education.

The press release says, Rajput, a transwoman from Chhattisgarh’s Bastar, co-founded an organisation called Mitwa in 2009. Mitwa organises and collectivises trans persons and raises awareness on their rights, including the right to self-identify.

“Vidya’s work with Mitwa is rooted in her own life of struggle, hardship and discrimination. Over the years, through advocacy and training, Vidya has been able to bring changes in the lives of people and influence state policy,” the press release states.

The release said that Rai continued to face social boycott and discrimination even after her rescue because she was HIV+. However, despite all odds, over the years she along with other survivors is able to build a strong community through which they are able to resist injustices and extend solidarity,” the press release reads.

Both winners of the award, in their acceptance, have stated that it was an encouragement for them to receive the award. “I am extremely honored to receive this recognition named after Kamla didi, who guided us, staying at the forefront of fight for gender equality,” Natisara Rai said after receiving the award. “While receiving this award, I feel more responsible and, I will stay on my words, setting an example, to carry forward Kamla didi’s vigorous advocacy for human rights.”

“This award is an encouragement; it will give courage not only to me but also to all people like me. That is because until today we (transgender people) only have rejection from our family and society. And getting this honour will give confidence to our community and it will bring a lot of positive changes in future,” Rajput said.