Two Indians among 2016 Ramon Magsaysay Award winners

Human rights activist Bezwada Wilson (50) and Carnatic musician Thodur Madabusi Krishna (40) are winners of the Magsaysay Award from India


Bezwada Wilson, 50, one of the two winners of the 2016 Ramon Magsaysay Award from India. Photo: PTI
Bezwada Wilson, 50, one of the two winners of the 2016 Ramon Magsaysay Award from India. Photo: PTI

Bengaluru/Chennai: Two Indians are among the winners of the 2016 Ramon Magsaysay Award—human rights activist Bezwada Wilson (50) and Carnatic musician Thodur Madabusi Krishna (40).

Other winners are Dompet Dhuafa from Indonesia, the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers, Vientiane Rescue from Laos and Conchita Carpio Morales of the Philippines.

Born into a Dalit family involved in manual scavenging in Karnataka, Wilson has spent the last 30 years fighting against the practice. Founder of an organization called the Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA), he has been instrumental in bringing down the number of manual scavengers.

“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,” his citation read.

“Fifty years old, Bezwada Wilson has spent 32 years on his crusade, leading not only with a sense of moral outrage but also with remarkable skills in mass organizing, and working within India’s complex legal system. SKA has grown into a network of 7,000 members in 500 districts across the country. Of the estimated 600,000 scavengers in India, SKA has liberated around 300,000,” it read.

Krishna, often referred to as the enfant terrible of Carnatic music, has constantly challenged the inherent non-inclusivity of the genre. He has won the award for “showing that music can indeed be a deeply transformative force in personal lives and society itself”.

Born in Chennai, Krishna, who was trained in Carnatic music from the age of six, questioned the social basis of art and ideated Svanubhava, a cultural movement that celebrates Indian art and exposes students to various Indian art forms. He, along with others, took Carnatic music to the fisherfolk through the Urur Olcott Kuppam festival. He also took music to war-ravaged northern Sri Lanka and launched two festivals to promote “culture retrieval and revival” in that country.

The citation from the Ramon Magsaysay Award said: “He questioned the politics of art; widened his knowledge about the arts of the Dalits and non-Brahmin communities; and declared he would no longer sing in ticketed events at a famous, annual music festival in Chennai to protest the lack of inclusiveness.”

While much of his work is still ahead of him, he has embarked on an important path. Krishna is resolved to break barriers of caste, class and creed by democratizing music, cultivating thought processes and sensibilities that unite people rather than divide them, the citation added.

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