MUMBAI: Two fearless Asian women — a Pakistani and a late Indian journalist — who risked their lives campaigning against extremism won a joint award on Thursday for their common courage.
Gauri Lankesh, who was murdered last month, was an outspoken newspaper editor. Lankesh, 55, was shot dead outside her home by unidentified assailants in Bengaluru at a time of rising nationalism and intolerance of dissent in the country.
“This award is a morale booster for people who want to write, and fight,” said Lankesh’s sister Kavitha. “It honours what Gauri stood for that you cannot silence me.”
Lankesh shared the annual ‘Reach All Women in WAR (RAW in WAR) Anna Politkovskaya Award’ with Gulalai Ismail, 31, a peace activist who has faced death threats for speaking out against the Taliban in Pakistan.
Nearly 2,414km away in Peshawar, co-winner Ismail said she felt numb with grief when she heard about Lankesh’s murder.
“It was heartbreaking that an advocate of democracy, a courageous voice was silenced,” she told Reuters by phone from Peshawar.
“This award recognises our common struggle and courage.”
Gulalai Ismail co-founded the advocacy group ‘Aware Girls’ when she was 16 to challenge violence against women.
She trains young peace activists in democracy to counter militant radicalisation.
Ismail has been threatened with violence on social media, branded as Islamphobic for speaking out against extremism and accused of atheism.
“My home has been attacked twice,” she said, describing how four armed men tried to force their way into her home when she was delayed at the airport. “I have been branded a traitor.”
The award marks the 11th anniversary of the killing of Politkovskaya, a Russian investigative reporter who uncovered state corruption and rights abuses, especially in Chechnya.
She was shot dead in the lobby of her Moscow apartment block at the age of 48 on Oct 7, 2006.
RAW in WAR, a London-based non-governmental organisation, supports women human rights defenders and victims of war.
It has also honoured Rohingya refugee Jamalida Begum who spoke publicly about her rape by Myanmar security forces.