In what has become a major global recognition for his vision of defending and promoting the rights of Dalit and tribal people in Tamil Nadu, Evidence Kathir, a well-renowned human rights activist, is all set to become a laureate of a prestigious honour. Sharing the news of the conferment and a note of creating history, Kathir has said that this is the first time a person from South Asia is receiving this award. He further expressed his gratitude for the people who stood with him for his decade-long work that endured more battles.
Vincent Raj, well known as 'Evidence' Kathir for founding and leading an organization 'Evidence' which is based in the Madurai district of Tamil Nadu, will be conferred with the 2022 Raoul Wallenberg Prize. The award that would be given by the Council of Europe has come as a mark of greater recognition for the organization's works and campaigns towards fighting discrimination and casteist violence against the Dalits. Evidence, which is a non-profit entity, operates with the crucial task of implementing laws and policies to protect and promote Dalit and Tribal rights.
The organization has keenly been working to defend the rights of women and children and to fight and eradicate the discrimination committed against them. Though it is based in Madurai, Evidence has been establishing a robust collaboration with several human rights organizations, social movements, and professionals to strongly press their demand where the state and civil society should take accountability towards ensuring equality and dignity to these oppressed communities.
Evidence has been collecting and documenting the events of caste crimes and honour killings in Tamil Nadu and it will initiate legal aid for the victims and families affected by the caste violence. The organization has also been fighting the acquittals of the accused in connection to the caste crimes. Kathir has established the organization in 2005 from his personal experience of being a victim of caste disparity and to fight against such an asymmetrical system, that watered discrimination and violence against the backward people.
According to reports, Evidence has released a five-year report on the caste-based murders in Tamil Nadu in 2021 and it has exhumed dreadful findings that showcased the flawed state when it came to addressing the violence faced by the Dalits and Tribal people. As per the report, a total of 300 murders of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe people had occurred in Tamil Nadu from January 2016 to December 2020. Of these cases, only 13 of the accused have been found guilty and convicted while the rest of the cases are either going on in the courts or not yet listed.
Besides documenting these chilling events, Kathir's organization has been helping the families of the victims to get justice. For Kathir, who heads the nearly two-decade-old organization, the 2022 Raoul Wallenberg Prize has become a major breakthrough. Kathir took to social media and shared the news of being selected as a recipient of this honour. In his statement, he said, "I have been carrying out human rights-related work for over 25 years. I have been doing this dedicatedly and I didn't get drained out amid having more challenges." He added that along with the award, he will also be bestowed with a cash prize of 10,000 Euros.
By citing that this is the first time a person from South Asia is receiving this award, Kathir said, "I am proud being a Tamilan and Dalit. This award is been conferred for the work of promoting Dalit rights. At this time, I am thinking of my guru Annal Ambedkar and thinking of the marginalized people of my community. This award is not possible without them." "I dedicate the award entirely to my Dalit people, to the poor, to every marginalized community across the world."
He said that the Council of Europe comprises the 27 heads of member-states of the European Union and noted that this recognition is a solidarity of 27 countries in Europe. Evidence Kathir has begun his career as a writer, addressing the experiences of the socially marginalized, and later, he moved his career towards working for human rights. In his statement, Kathir further said that the online award ceremony will be held on January 19 in France and the award will be given by the General Secretary of the Council of Europe. Kathir will be travelling to France after the Covid spread mitigates to receive the award and an honorarium of 10,000 Euros.
In a statement, Marija Pejcinovic Buric, the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe said, "Vincent Raj Arokiasamy has risked his life to help an exceptionally disadvantaged part of the Indian population whose plight is often ignored by national and international communities. In defending human rights with incredible commitment and resilience, his courageous actions for the so-called "untouchables" fully reflect the spirit and values of the Raoul Wallenberg Prize." The Council of Europe further said, "Vincent Raj Arokiasamy has demonstrated enormous courage and taken grave risks regarding his own and his family's lives. He has rescued some 25,000 victims in 3,000 incidents of human rights violations."
The Raoul Wallenberg Prize came through the joint efforts of the Swedish government and the Hungarian Parliament in memory of Raoul Wallenberg for his efforts to save Jewish lives during the Holocaust and World War II. Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat, who helped save tens of thousands of Jewish lives during the Holocaust. He was apprehended by the agents of the Soviet Union in Budapest, Hungary on January 17, 1945, and he was then disappeared. His whereabouts were unknown until 2000 during which the Russian prosecutor's office has admitted that Wallenberg was incarcerated in a Soviet prison following his arrest in 1945 and he was executed in 1947.