Nilu Rani Patra (born 1954), a peasant woman with little formal education, has been working for over two decades toward the empowerment of women and fishworkers' rights. She was also instrumental in organizing a mass protest against the setting up in her district of a missile base, which evicted more than 100,000 people from 132 villages.
Nilu's involvement with women's and fishworkers' rights began with an encounter with the Institute for Motivating Self-Employment (Imse). When its activists spoke of the environmental and social impact of shrimp monoculture, Nilu knew that she had seen this fallout in her own daily experience. She participated in an in-depth action research program organized by the Imse to gain deeper knowledge on the issue, armed with which she initiated an intensive dialogue with the women in her village. This process was a catalyst for the mass movement organized by Mahila Samitis (women's groups) spread across 100 villages, which grew to become a vibrant women's empowerment movement. But the big commercial interests behind the shrimp farms are not easily cowed: while Nilu continues her work, she has been attacked, harassed, and tortured by the police-goon nexus that buttresses the shrimp mafia. Nilu also played a commendable role in organizing the common people, in general, and women, in particular, against the wanton imposition of a missile base by the central government in the Bhograi-Baliapal block in the district of Balasore, an exercise that evicted more than 100,000 people from 132 villages. The police assaulted her several times during her involvement with this movement, but Nilu stood firm.