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, he has been instrumental in bringing down the number of manual scavengers.
“Some years ago, Bezwada Wilson’s activism on manual scavenging shook up the central government into action. Bureaucrats sought him out in awe," tweeted Shivam Vij, contributing editor, Huffington Post India, adding that Wilson who won the award for “asserting the inalienable right to a life of human dignity" is “a true hero if there could be one in our age".
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.
Established in 1957, the Ramon Magsaysay Award is considered one of Asia’s highest honours. Other Indians who have won this prestigious award include Chintaman Deshmukh, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, M.S. Subbulakshmi, Mahashweta Devi, Aruna Roy, Kiran Bedi and Mother Teresa.