Veteran journalist and US based Indian civil rights activist Ajit Sahi and Indian not-for-profit organisation Dhanak of Humanity have won the inaugural Swami Agnivesh Memorial Award instituted this year by Hindus for Human Rights.
The Swami Agnivesh Memorial Award is in honour of Swami Agnivesh (1939-2020), one of the few Hindu religious leaders to speak out against Hindu nationalism and caste. Swami Agnivesh was inspired by the Hindu teaching of vasudhaiva kutumbakam: “the world is one family,” and he fought for the rights of communities who were not necessarily his own: bonded laborers, religious minorities, Adivasis, and caste-oppressed communities.
In recognition of Swami Agnivesh’s fearless commitment to human rights for all, the Award recognises one individual and one organisation continuing his legacy by fighting for justice for all.
Hindus for Human Rights is an advocacy organisation headquartered in the United States, with an Australia & New Zealand Branch, that is “committed to the ideals of multi-religious pluralism in South Asia, particularly in India, and throughout the Indian diaspora”.
Ajit Sahi, the individual winner of the inaugural award, is an Indian civil rights activist currently based in the United States, where he works as Advocacy Director of the Indian American Muslim Council.
“Ajit is a veteran journalist, and he has been a dedicated campaigner for civil liberties, human rights and religious freedom in India for over three decades. He has testified before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and spoken boldly about human rights violations in India. He has been a trusted mentor and close partner to HfHR, and, most inspiringly, being a Hindu, he has worked tirelessly for the rights of Muslim Indians.”, HfHR said in a media release.
“He was a giant,” said Sahi about Swami Agnivesh. “People like him inspired tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, in my generation. And I hope that he’ll continue to inspire many more.”
Dhanak of Humanity is a nonprofit organization in India which ensures that interfaith, inter-caste, same-sex, and other non-traditional couples can get married safely in spite of family, societal and legal obstacles. Dhanak fights for an individual’s right to choose in matters of marriage or relationships, against religious conversion for the sake of marriage, against honor-based crimes, and against forced marriages in India. To date, Dhanak has helped over 5,000 individuals.
“We are truly grateful and overjoyed to be recognised for our work today,” said Shailaja Rao, a member of Dhanak. “Indeed, we should all celebrate hope as the year closes, as it is hope that gives us the strength to remain focused on our shared vision to move forward towards a pluralistic society.”
“And though the work is difficult,” Asif Iqbal, co-founder of Dhanak noted, “fortunately we have partners and friends from all across [the] world.”
HfHR presented the award at ‘Celebration of Hope’, their second annual virtual holiday gala, to celebrate their ‘wins of 2021’. The event showcased performances by comedian Kajol Srinivasan, Carnatic musician Rithvik Raja, a star from “Indian Idol,” and a Bangalore-based Indian Folk Band.