The 2009 Meeto Memorial Award for young South Asians was awarded to Laxmi Ben Vankar and Anusheh Anadil, two young women from India and Bangladesh, respectively.
- Anusheh Anadil (Left), Laxmi Ben Vankar
About the awardees
Laxmi Ben Vankar (India)
- Citation for Laxmi Ben Vankar (India)
- read out at the Meeto Memorial Award 2009 Ceremony
14 October, New Delhi
The winner of the Meeto Memorial Award 2009 – Laxmi Ben Vankar – is an intrepid woman. A Dalit from the village of Vyaseda, 25 kilometers away from Godhra, Gujarat, Laxmi realized early in life that her journey would be far from easy. So she turned each challenge into an opportunity to make this world a better place.
After the demise of her father in 1992, Laxmi joined her mother as a daily wage laborer to help raise her younger siblings. In spite of severe financial hurdles and hardships, she graduated in 1997 and decided to commit her life to the well-being of society. This came to fruition in 2001 when she formed and registered the Triveni Anusuchit Jati Education Trust, a hostel for Dalit girls where they could stay and study for free. However, lack of adequate funding forced her to shelve her dream.
Laxmi was undeterred. In 2003, she joined Aman Samudaya, a campaign for peace, justice and communal harmony that was started as a response to the Godhra communal carnage in 2002. As the campaign largely comprised Muslims, Laxmi was anxious about working with a community she had never interacted with. Over a period of time, however, her fears settled while her belief in the spirit of pluralism, peace and communal harmony got strengthened and her understanding of the politics of hatred increased.
Though Laxmi was excited about her work with Aman Samudaya, she faced opposition from people in her own village who were unhappy that she worked with a Muslim organisation. In fact, there was not a single Muslim in their village. Each family had been asked to nominate one male each to kill Muslims in the nearby villages during the post Godhra violence. Villagers threatened Laxmi with the name of Narendra Modi but she stood her ground. She worked in many villages where she conducted surveys, provided relief and immediate livelihood support for victims of the genocide. In the affected villages of Panch Mahal district, she also facilitated the filing of FIRs. In a village by the name of Rehna Morba, some local Vishwa Hindu Parishad activists tried to hamper her work. Laxmi invited the activists to the meetings and was gradually able to help them see the need for mutual cooperation between the two communities. For instance, she pointed out that many big hotels and restaurants on the highway between Godhara and Vadodara were owned by Muslims but provided employment to many Hindus. During the carnage, many of these hotels were charred or destroyed, thus adversely affecting the livelihoods of both Muslims and Hindus. Laxmi’s counseling and reasoning led to such a metamorphosis among the right-wing villagers that they volunteered to help Laxmi!
Over the years, Laxmi has actively interacted with the media and led many campaigns in different villages and tallukas. In her words, “If one desires to devote one’s life to the society, then one has to be sensitive. But that sensitivity needs to be channelized through good exposure”.
A single woman in her mid-thirties, Laxmi hopes that the work done by her and other like-minded people would one day transform communal minds into peaceful and secular ones. It is her wish to work for peace and communal harmony till her last breath so that everyone gets justice.
Laxmi has not just overcome the extremely difficult circumstances but also become a successful social and political change agent. This Award is being given to her for her courage, commitment, fearlessness, innate sense of justice and rights for all.
Anusheh Anadil (Bangladesh)
- Citation for Anusheh Anadil (Bangladesh)
- read out at the Meeto Memorial Award 2009 Ceremony
14 October, New Delhi
`It is important, therefore, to move away from the tendency to ground the conceptualization of identity in singularity, and to incorporate the layers, and plural character of lived reality and cultural practices of community,’ writes Meeto in her essay `A historio-graphical essay on Hindu-Muslim relations’.
It is this plural character of South Asia that is celebrated in the music and work of Anusheh Anadil, the winner of the Meeto Memorial Award 2009.
Anusheh has many amazing dimensions to her life and work. She is a musician, a song-writer, a cultural activist and an ethnic-crafts entrepreneur from Dhaka, Bangladesh. However, it is largely her meaningful music that has made Anusheh a name to reckon with. Though trained in classical music, she is also greatly influenced by the club music of Canada and the music of Lalon Shai, the great Bangladeshi Baul philosopher poet. In 1998, Anusheh started a fusion band – Bangla which is ‘a city band with a Baul soul; a guitar longing to be a dotara; a dotara longing to be a guitar’. The band engages with one of the most important issues of our time—religious freedom. Through her music, Anusheh passionately fights against religious intolerance. The message of unity and self-exploration resonates through her music. In times when style scores over content and commercial popularity is the benchmark of good music, Anusheh has chosen to make music that is difficult, brave and engaging. To her credit, Anusheh’s music is extraordinarily popular.
Not surprisingly, Anusheh has not sat back with her laurels. In October 2008, when a group of Islamists (under the covert protection of governmental authorities) attempted to raze a sculpture of Lalon Shah in Dhaka, Anusheh and many young activists started ‘Banglar Shongskriti Andolon’, a cultural movement to protest against bigotry and created a pressure group to foster values of secularism and religious freedom. This is Anusheh’s ‘work-in-progress’ while her dream is to build a sustainable network of young people who can form a constituency for a secular Bangladesh.
Anusheh’s deep, powerful voice has made her a favourite of many great musicians across the globe, many of whom have collaborated with her. She continues to learn music under the guidance of her guruma, Kalpana Bhattacharya.
In the male dominated field of band music in Bangladesh, Anusheh has made a mark for herself. She has won two awards – The Musical Journalist’s Award (2006) and Annanya’s Top 10 Women of Bangladesh (2007) – both for raising her voice against religious intolerance. Recently, Link TV of USA made a documentary film on Anusheh called ‘Gopon Kawtha–The Unheard Voice’.
A mother of two, Anusheh also runs ‘Jatra’, a successful crafts outlet that promotes Bangladeshi products and fashion-wear. ‘Jatra’ sustains more than 100 groups of crafts-people, many of whom are women and from ethnic minority communities.
Anusheh has also campaigned extensively against drug abuse. She was the first popular musician in Bangladesh to speak about her personal struggle against drug addiction. Anusheh has fought long and hard battles to crate space for dialogue on peace and harmony and religious tolerance.
For a composite of Anusheh Anadil’s creative achievements in the field of music and craft, and promoting liberal thinking in Bangladesh, she has been selected as one of the two recipients of the first Meeto Memorial Award 2009.