Bezwada Wilson, a prolific campaigner for eradication of manual scavenging in India from southern state of Karnataka, and classical Carnatic singer T M Krishna from Chennai, capital of southern state of Tamil Nadu, were today chosen for the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for 2016.
Apart from the two Indians, four others have been selected for the award - Conchita Carpio-Morales of the Philippines, Dompet Dhuafa of Indonesia, Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers and 'Vientiane Rescue' of Laos.
Wilson, the national convenor of the Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA), has been named as an awardee for "asserting the inalienable right to a life of human dignity" while Krishna was chosen for the award under the 'Emergent Leadership' category for bringing "social inclusiveness in culture".
"Manual scavenging is a 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 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 meagerly 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 government itself is the biggest violator," the citation said.
Wilson (50), born into a Dalit family involved in manual scavenging in Kolar Gold Fields township in Karnataka, was the first in his family to pursue higher education.
"Treated as an outcast in school and acutely aware of his family's lot, Bezwada was filled with great anger; but he would later channel this anger to a crusade to eradicate manual scavenging," the citation said.
Wilson has spent 32 years on his "crusade, leading not only with a sense of moral outrage but also with remarkable skills in mass organising, and working within India's complex legal system".
"In electing Bezwada Wilson to receive the 2016 Ramon Magsaysay Award, the board of trustees recognises 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," the citation said.
The other Indian awardee, 40-year-old Krishna has been hailed in the citation as "showing that music can indeed be a deeply transformative force in personal lives and society itself."
Krishna, born to a Brahmin (high caste Hindu) family in Chennai, was trained from the age of six in the aristocratic Carnatic music under masters of the form.
"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," his citation said.