Rutuparna Mohanty of India
By Peace Writer Tara Ruttenberg
Human rights lawyer and social activist Rutuparna Mohanty is the fourth daughter of freedom fighter followers of Mahatma Gandhi. From her childhood she learned that she lived in a society “where women are treated as secondary citizens, where in every five minutes a woman is either assaulted or abused and exploited, where women are grossly deprived of their participation in the socioeconomic and political floors, and where women have … no voice against the violation of their human rights.”
To support women standing up to injustice, Mohanty began working with nonprofits and became the secretary of Sanjeevani, a large organization in her state of Orissa. There, she was especially affected by the plight of unwed mothers who faced discrimination, poverty and alienation, and were already victims of or became subjected to trafficking and prostitution.
Mohanty created Maa Ghara (Mothers Home), which provides a shelter for rehabilitating trafficked and sexually exploited women and girls. Through rescue, care and legal protection, the home has served 5,000 women since 2004.
As the legal dimensions of many of the girls’ situations became evident, Mohanty returned to school to become a lawyer to defend their cases. As she earned a reputation for fearlessly defending women’s rights, Mohanty took on high-profile human rights cases from which other lawyers had shied away: defending the rights of slum dwellers from government eviction, sexual harassment cases against powerful politicians and prosecuting perpetrators of gang rape.
But Mohanty has not stopped there. Maa Ghara has become a “people’s movement” to protect women’s rights, and includes community “vigilance groups” that prevent human trafficking. She publishes a weekly newspaper, Janani (“The Voice of Women”), which is “of the women, by the women and for the women,” and is working with police and politicians on policy reform and training that will better protect women and girls. Mohanty is fighting for nothing less than a state where there is “zero tolerance to violations against women.”
Mohanty was a Woman PeaceMaker in 2013.