Ratnaboli Ray from Kolkata is among the four 2016 recipients of the prestigious Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism by the Human Rights Watch. Ray is honoured for leading the fight – often at great personal risk – to move India toward a rights-based system of mental health care.
Ray has been a leading advocate for the rights of people with psychosocial disabilities in India, for more than two decades. In India, thousands are confined to government institutions where they often endure abuse behind closed doors. Ray, who has faced stigma, discrimination, and threats due to her own mental health condition, is working to change that.
Born into a family of committed social activists, Ray has worked with marginalized communities in Kolkata and West Bengal. After she had a breakdown in 1997, her employer forced her to resign. She has used her personal experience, including wrongfully being locked up in a mental hospital by union organizers trying to intimidate her, to push for a paradigm shift in government mental health institutions.
In 2000, Ray founded Anjali, a small nongovernmental organization that provides skills training to people with psychosocial disabilities living in government institutions. Additionally, Ray co-founded a national alliance for access to justice for people with mental health conditions. Ray and her organization are key partners for HRW in its work on the rights of women and girls with disabilities in India.
The other three recipients of 2016 awards are Kalpona Akter, a former child worker in Bangladesh garment factories who organized fellow garment workers to demand fair labor rights; Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, who has dedicated his life to denouncing rights violations against prisoners, activists, and people from all social, ethnic, and economic backgrounds in Burundi; and Yonous Muhammadi, who fled the Taliban in Afghanistan, was granted asylum in Greece, and has become a leading defender of refugee rights there.
“The Alison Des Forges Award honors people who have spent their lives defending some of the world’s most oppressed and vulnerable people,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “The honorees work courageously and selflessly every day, often under the most difficult and dangerous conditions.”
The award is named after Dr. Alison Des Forges, senior adviser at Human Rights Watch for almost two decades, who died in a plane crash in New York State on February 12, 2009. Des Forges was the world’s leading expert on the 1994 Rwanda genocide and its aftermath.