Bezwada Wilson, a Dalit anti-manual scavenging activist, and Thodur Madabusi Krishna, a traditional singer, are recognised along with associations and volunteers from the Philippines, Indonesia, Laos and Japan. In India, waste collection is handed down from one generation to the next. About 180,000 Dalits clean 790,000 public and private facilities. Each year, the Magsaysay Award acknowledges leading Asian figures.
New Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Two Indians, Bezwada Wilson and Thodur Madabusi Krishna, are among the winners of this year’s Ramon Magsaysay Award, often referred to as the Asian Nobel Prize.
One is an activist fighting to eliminate manual scavenging by Dalits; the other is a traditional Carnatic singer.
Established in 1957, the Ramon Magsaysay Award is an annual award established in memory of the former president of the Philippines Ramon Magsaysay and his values and example of integrity in governance, courageous service to the people, and pragmatic idealism within a democratic society.
In addition to the two winners from India, the award went to four other laureates: Philippines Ombudsperson Conchita Carpio Morales; Indonesian NGO Dompet Dhuafa; Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers, an organisation of some 30,000 volunteers who work in 80 countries; and ‘Vientiane Rescue’ of Laos, an NGO operating in the health field.
The six winners will receive their award, which includes a certificate, a medal and a cash prize, in late August in Manila.
Bezwada Wilson, 50, is the most socially implicated. He was named for “asserting the inalienable right to a life of human dignity.”
Born in a Dalit family and a community of manual scavengers in the Kolar Gold Fields, a town in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, the Magsaysay award winner SAW his own parents clean toilets and carry human excreta.
Wilson began his fight to end manual scavenging in 1986. After graduating in Political Science, he became involved in community service and related youth programmes.
He is currently the national convener of the Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA), a nationwide movement founded in 1994 to end manual scavenging and help those engaged in it to find dignified work.
Although the Indian government banned manual scavenging through an Act of Parliament in 1993, the practice of manual scavenging still continues in many parts of the country.
“A hereditary occupation, manual scavenging involves 180,000 Dalit households cleaning the 790,000 public and private dry latrines across India; 98 per cent of scavengers are meagerly paid women and girls. While the Constitution and other laws prohibit dry latrines and the employment of manual scavengers, these have not been strictly enforced since government itself is the biggest violator,” the Magsaysay Award citation said.
The latter also noted that “In electing Bezwada Wilson to receive the 2016 Ramon Magsaysay Award, the board of trustees recognizes his moral energy and prodigious skill in leading a grassroots movement to eradicate the degrading servitude of manual scavenging in India, reclaiming for the Dalits the human dignity that is their natural birthright.”
The other Indian, Carnatic singer Thodur Madabusi Krishna, was selected for his “forceful commitment as artist and advocate to art’s power to heal India’s deep social divisions, breaking barriers of caste and class to unleash what music has to offer not just for some but for all.” Carnatic music is a genre commonly associated with the southern India.