Mizo social activist wins inaugural Zakapa Award for advocating women's safety

Aizawl: Following a meticulous selection process, the Zakapa Award Selection Committee for 2023 has chosen Dr. Lalrinawmi Ralte of Tlangnuam, Aizawl, as the first-ever recipient of the prestigious Zakapa Award. The announcement was made during a ceremony organised by the Department of Social Welfare & Tribal Affairs, Government of Mizoram, held at Vanapa Hall in Aizawl on Friday. Chief Minister Zoramthanga presented the award, which included a citation and a cash prize of one lakh rupees, to the winner.

The Zakapa Award was recently established to honour individuals, institutions, or NGOs that have actively fought injustices against women and contributed to the advancement of women’s welfare. This award seeks to raise awareness among the general public regarding women’s safety and security in society.

The award derives its name from Zakapa, a revered Mizo (Fanai) Chief who ruled over Khawhri in 1891. During his leadership of Khawhri village, an incident occurred when the then Superintendent of South Lushai Hills, CS Murray, demanded the presence of two women for a night during his stay in Khawhri. In a courageous act, Zakapa firmly rejected this demand, citing a violation of tribal law. This refusal led to a confrontation between the two parties at Khawhri, resulting in Zakapa’s capture as a prisoner under the British Government. This incident also prompted a notification that instructed all British officials in the Lushai Hills to refrain from such misconduct.

To commemorate Zakapa’s remarkable dedication to women’s protection and advancement in society, the Department of Social Welfare & Tribal Affairs, Government of Mizoram introduced the Zakapa Annual Award this year.

When East Mojo reached out to Ralte to gather her thoughts on winning the award, she conveyed, “It is a tremendous honour and privilege to be the inaugural recipient of a state-sponsored award that specifically recognises dedication to the safety of women, particularly in the context of addressing sexual violence. As a recipient of this award, it is my commitment to uphold the legacy of Zakapa, who boldly resisted British officials when they demanded two young girls for their pleasure, claiming sole authority over his subjects. Zakapa faced consequences for refusing to comply with the British official’s demand. The primary challenge lies in Zakapa’s assertion that it is not the Mizo culture to provide girls to anyone, as he was both a guardian of his village and community while recognising that he did not own the lives and sexuality of young women. As a result of his wise decision to hide those women in the jungle, preventing Murray and his team from finding them, all the women in his village were spared from sexual violence at the hands of the British.”

Ralte spent 27 years in Bangalore, where she served as a Professor at the United Theological College and held the position of President at an organisation called Northeast Solidarity. She was actively engaged in various social causes and one of the volunteer activities she engaged in included addressing cases of sexual violence.

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She explained how sexual violence remains a prevalent issue for young women from the Northeast who have migrated elsewhere for employment opportunities. “Their physical appearance and cultural background often lead to misunderstandings, making them vulnerable to sexual abuse,” she said.

In such situations, Ralte promptly took action, mobilising her team to arrange assistance from local authorities or community leaders. To date, she has successfully managed over 20 different cases, achieving a 100% success rate, with the support of numerous individuals. Her annual reports on these efforts are submitted to the Ministry of Home Affairs. At present, Ralte continues to engage in volunteer activities with the refugee communities in Mizoram looking after the welfare of both women and children.

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