Renowned activist Jayasree Kakumani passed away on the night of July 31, 2021 due to cardiac arrest. Her death dealt a heavy blow for the entire human rights defenders community. The 61-year-old activist and lawyer was one of the most active members of the Human Rights Forum (HRF) in Kadapa and Rayalaseema regions of Andhra Pradesh.
Survived by her husband Akthab and son Anosh Raj, Jayasree Kakumani also leaves behind a rich legacy of human rights work. Her work towards the rehabilitation of the Gandikota reservoir affected and against the uranium-mining in Thummalapale is particularly well-known. She further challenged mafia and vested interests in Kadapa and the Rayalaseema region, caste atrocities, tribal repression, domestic violence, etc. Even her own inter-faith marriage was a defiance of discriminatory regimes at a personal level.
Last year, she joined the Talla Proddutur villagers’ protest against the Gandikota reservoir project, whose water had flooded their agriculture fields and houses. She stood alongside the people from various marginalised communities despite facing a two-day house arrest earlier. At the time, she had condemned the apathetic government for allowing the submerging of the village despite pending rehabilitation work at centres, including compensation.
JanaSena party member Jaya Kalyani Akula wrote in her Facebook tribute, “In November 2019, I went to know about the problems faced by the people due to uranium mining in Kadapa district. I worked with Jayashree garu one day… She is an inspiration to so many like me. Human rights platform, Cuddapa convener Jayasree Kakumani’s sudden death is a loss to the human rights movement in Andhra.”
Jayashree Kakumani was vocal about the impact of the government-owned Uranium Corporation of India Limited’s (UCIL) mining project on the lives of nearby residents. Many have complained about plummeting underground water levels due to drastic increase in sodium and uranium as well as surface water contamination. The persisting project also threatens air and soil pollution. Jayasree Kakumani with her organisation filed petitions against such developmental projects.
However, the state government responded to her and HRF’s human rights work with UAPA charges alleging she and her organisation were trying to provoke locals against government projects and join local Maoist groups instead. Around 27 people were named in the FIR including HRF member V. S. Krishna, Andhra Pradesh State Civil Liberties Committee (CLC) General Secretary Chiluka Chandrasekhar.
Nonetheless, Jayasree Kakumani was under constant surveillance by state authorities. She faced multiple house detentions for her human rights work. Her contributions as a Human Rights Defender are fondly remembered by her family and supporters.