Bezwada Wilson, a renowned campaigner against manual scavenging, and Carnatic singer T.M. Krishna from Chennai were named for the prestigious Magsaysay Award on Wednesday.
Born into a Dalit family in Karnataka, Mr. Wilson, 50, is the national convener of the Safai Karmachari Andolan.
The award committee was impressed with his work which focussed on “asserting the inalienable right to a life of human dignity.” “Manual scavenging is blight on humanity in India. Consigned by structural inequality to the Dalits, India’s ‘untouchables’, manual scavenging is the work of removing by hand human excrement from dry latrines and carrying on the head the baskets of excrement to designated disposal sites,” states Mr. Wilson’s citation.
“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.
Under the category ‘Emergent Leadership,’ Mr. Krishna was chosen for the award for bringing “social inclusiveness in culture.”
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.