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CfB Bureau

Magsaysay award winners Bezwada Wilson (left) and T.M. Krishna. Photo: Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation

Carnatic musician TM Krishna and human rights activist Bezwada Wilson have been conferred the Ramon Magsaysay Award for 2016. While the Chennai-born Krishna has been awarded for "ensuring social inclusiveness in culture", Wilson, who was born to a dalit family in Karnataka, has been lauded for his efforts towards "asserting the inalienable right to a life of human dignity."

The Ramon Magsaysay Award is an annual award, instituted in memory of former Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay, to honour "greatness of spirit in selfless service to the peoples of Asia", says the web site of the foundation that selects the awardees.

Wilson is the national convener of the Safai Karmachari Andolan, and has led a grassroots movement against the manual scavenging of human excrement by workers who come from the country’s lowest castes. Wilson himself was born in a family who were traditionally manual scavengers. However, he successfully campaigned for his town’s dry latrines to be converted into water-seal versions, and took his campaign nationwide. Over 32 years, Wilson has led a campaign “not only with a sense of moral outrage but also with remarkable skills in mass organizing, and working within India’s complex legal system,” the committee said.

India’s constitution and other laws prohibit the employment of manual scavengers for latrines, but that isn’t strictly enforced, the awards website said. Wilson had helped reclaim human dignity for the groups who were once referred to as “untouchables,” the committee added.

“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 meagrely 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 the government itself is the biggest violator,” the citation said.

Thodur Madabusi Krishna, a musician who performs and specializes in “Karnatik” music–a south Indian classical music genre that originated centuries ago in temples and courts–received the award for his commitment to democratizing art under the category ‘Emergent Leadership’, the committee said.

He has in recent years conducted a free music and dance festival at a beach in Besant Nagar area in the southern city of Chennai that brought together people from India’s lower castes and upper class. The award committee hailed him for “showing that music can indeed be a deeply transformative force in personal lives and society itself.”

Krishna was born into a Brahmin family in Chennai and was trained right from the tender age of six in the refined Carnatic music. “Though he earned a degree in economics, Krishna chose to be an artist and quickly rose to become a highly admired concert performer of Carnatic classical music,” said his citation.

“An ancient vocal and instrumental musical system, Carnatic music started centuries ago in temples and courts but was subsequently ‘classicised’ to become the almost exclusive cultural preserve of the Brahmin caste — performed, organised, and enjoyed by the elite who have access to it,” the citation said.

Other winners of the 2016 award include Conchita Carpio-Morales, a Filipino anti-corruption crusader, who has been recognized for restoring faith in the rule of law, and Dompet Dhuafa from Indonesia, who has been recognized for expanding the transformative impact of zakat. While Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers has been recognized for building a world of genuine solidarity, Vientiane Rescue from Laos, has been recognized for volunteering to save lives at risk.

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