7. Athili Sapriina

Sponsor Club: Stroudsburgs Rotary Club, District 7410

Host Club: Wynnum & Manly Rotary Club, District 9630

Athili is a media practitioner and a keen observer of debates around climate change, political and armed conflicts, militarisation, counter insurgency, social media trends, indigenous peoples and development aggression. As peoples whose ancestral homeland have been systematically segregated into two nations, India and Burma, Athili envisions the transformation of a conflict that has spawned seven decades and cost lives on all sides.

Athili sought a Rotary nomination for this fellowship from outside his country of birth, primarily because the Indian state had succeeded in creating a narrative that has brutalised the Naga people, while subjecting activists and critical voices risk of being marginalised by forces of the state, both within and without. The Indian military operates with impunity protected by laws such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, a licence to shoot to kill on mere suspicion. He witnessed the infamous Operation Bluebird of the Indian military in 1987.

Over the last 10 years, Athili has observed how the media, particularly print and social media, is being used by the Indian state to “win the hearts and minds” of the Nagas. His activism and research is aimed toward empowering the community to withstand a decisive phase of India’s counter insurgency even as political negotiations continue following a ceasefire in 1997. Political negotiations have made slow progress and is threatened by a delicate sociopolitical situation that is still not conducive to address core questions, including the reunification of the divided Naga peoples. He has been an observer at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFii) and helped found the Asia Pacific Indigenous Youth Network (APIYN).

His future projects include working with the media, engaging civil society and peoples organisations and the political processes to strike a just and fair deal for the people he represents.