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Ramon Magsaysay Award 2016
Jul 30, 2016

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).

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • His citation read, “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.” 
  • T.M. 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.
  • 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 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.”

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

Magsaysay Award

The Ramon Magsaysay Award was created in 1957, the year the Philippines lost in a plane crash a President who was well-loved for his simplicity and humility, his passion for justice, particularly for the poor, and his advancement of human dignity. The prize was established in April 1957 by the trustees of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund based in New York with the concurrence of the Philippine government.

From the beginning, the Ramon Magsaysay Award was conceived to honor "greatness of spirit shown in service to the people." It embraces East, Southeast, and South Asia and any person living in Asia without regard to race, gender, or religion--although heads of state and heads of government (and their spouses) are not eligible during their terms of office. The award is given in six categories  annually: 

  • Goverment Service, to recognize outstanding service in the public interest in any branch of government, including executive, judicial, legislative, or military.
  • Public Service, to recognize outstanding service for the public good by a private citizen.
  • Community Leadership, to recognize leadership of a community toward helping the disadvantaged have fuller opportunities and a better life.
  • Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Arts, to recognize effective writing, publishing, or photography or the use of radio, television, cinema, or the performing arts as a power for the public good.
  • Peace and International Understanding, to recognize contributions to the advancement of friendship, tolerance, peace, and solidarity as the foundations for sustainable development within and across countries.
  • Emergent Leadership, to recognize an individual, forty years of age or younger, for outstanding work on issues of social change in his or her community, but whose leadership may not yet be broadly recognized outside of this community.

272 individuals and 18 organizations have been named Magsaysay awardees since 1958. Among them are some of Asia's great humanitarians, community leaders, intellectuals, and artists. It is a hallmark of the prize, however, that awardees may also be individuals who have quietly helped others without expectation of public recognition.

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