Pakistani national Akeela Naz gets Meeto Memorial Award – 25th Anniversary of Sangat

Staff Correspondent of the Daily Star

Born in a family like many of the millions of poor landless farmers in Pakistan, she clawed her way up to emerge as one of the most recognised woman’s leader in South Asia. The persona behind the ‘Thapa Force,’ an army of protesting women farmers wielding “thapas” (a stick to wash/strike clothes with), Akeela Naz from Panjab yesterday received the second Meeto Memorial Award. The award is given to honour young South Asians committed towards communal harmony, peace and human rights.

Akeela’s family was among the millions of poor farmers who were forced to pay heavy revenue to companies and military agencies that did not even own the land.

She campaigns to mobilise farmers, especially women, to use their “thapas” as a weapon for self-protection and to guard their lands and families against encroaching police forces.

Her fight with corruption, abusive military and government officials in Pakistan and resolve to unite women farmers against exploitation led to her recognition.

Akeela said, “When I used to ride on tractors to go to fields, I never thought what I was doing would receive such recognition.”

“I’m happy that my efforts have brought a positive change in the lives of poor peasants and what we are doing is being appreciated not only on a local level but internationally,” she said.

“Asian countries should work to spread peace. Together, we are stronger,” she added.

She received the award from popular singer Anusheh Anadil, one of last year’s awardees, at Jatya Natyashala of the National Shilpakala Academy in the city.

Prominent Indian women’s rights and peace activist Kamla Bhasin instituted the award in memory of her daughter, Meeto (1978-2006), who was a young scholar, dancer and a human rights activist.

The programme coincided with the 25th anniversary of Sangat, a South Asian organisation promoting peace and feminism.

Women from Iran, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Burma attended the programme making it a true South Asian assembly.

“We need to realise that the clash of civilisation is not between Islam and Christianity,” said Kamla Bhasin, “but rather the clash is between profit and Mother Nature, between people and greed.”

To overcome these conflicts, people need to make friends and engage in partnerships in every step of their lives, she said.

Sunila Abeyasekera, an award-winning Sri Lankan human rights campaigner, delivered the keynote speech.

“Meeto, a daughter, friend and guru to many of us, was a very fine young woman,” she said, “her short life stands as an example of beauty, artistic and intellectual achievements and deep commitment to the syncretism of South Asia.”

“This award is not just a tribute to Meeto and her work, but also recognition of the achievements of many South Asians like her who are living their dreams for a better world,” she said.

Offering a word of thanks, Hameeda Hossain, prominent human rights activist, expressed joy at this unique award which chooses individuals from South Asia.

Ain o Salish Kendra Executive Director Sultana Kamal, Nijera Kori founder Khushi Kabir, Pakistan Women’s Commission Chairperson Anis Haroon, Indian women’s movement leaders Abha Bhaiya, Suneeta Dhar, Rukumini Rao and Nepal Constituent assembly member Jawla Saha were some of the many international activists who attended the ceremony.

Later, Anusheh Anadil, singer and cultural activist from Dhaka, and her group of musicians enthralled the audience with their performance.

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