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Bezwada Wilson, Magsaysay awardee, had said, "who wants award from this govt?", when chased for Padma

By Our Representative
Bezwada Wilson, national convenor of the Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA), who has won the Ramon Magsaysay Award for 2016 for “asserting the inalienable right to a life of human dignity” was being “chased” by the Narendra Modi government for the Padma award, one of India's highest awards.
However, Wilson showed “no interest” in the matter.
A well-known scribe, Vidya Subramaniam, says in a Facebook post, “Top official at the social Justice ministry told me they had been chasing him for a Padma award a few months back, and he showed no interest. When they persisted, he told them he is hard pressed for time and couldn't be bothered filling up forms.”
When th scribe crossed checked with Wilson, he told her: "That's true, but who wants an award from this government?"
Others who have been chosen for the Magsaysay award, also called Asian Nobel prize, are South Indian classical musician TM Krishna, Philippine ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, Indonesian charity organisation Dompet Dhuafa, Laos’ free ambulance service Vientiane Rescue and Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers.
In its citation for award, Magsaysay recalls Wilson and SKA's fight against manual scavenging, calling it a “blight on humanity in India”, insisting, thanks to lobbying by him and SKA, in 2013 a new law that includes rehabilitation support for scavengers was passed in Parliament..
Pointing out that “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”, the citation says, it has been vigorously involved in raising awareness about scavenging, the caste system, and the 1993 Prohibition Act, training local leaders and volunteers for the movement.
Giving examples of SKA's campaign, the citation says, “In 2004-2005, it undertook a mass latrine demolition drive across Andhra Pradesh; exposed the occupational violence faced by female scavengers; and met with officials to demand the demolition of dry latrines and the provision of alternative occupations for scavengers.”
Then, it says, “In 2010, SKA led an India-wide march for the total eradication of scavenging, and again in 2015 undertook a 125-day bus journey across 30 states to mobilize the public against manual scavenging.”
Wilson launched these campaigns in a country riddled with “structural inequality”, in which the Dalits' most exploited section, manual scavengers, work for “removing by hand human excrement from dry latrines and carrying on the head the baskets of excrement to designated disposal sites.”
“A hereditary occupation, manual scavenging involves 180,000 dalit households cleaning the 790,000 public and private dry latrines across India; 98 percent of scavengers are meagerly paid women and girls”, it citation says.
Wilson was born in the Kolar Gold Fields township in Karnataka state where his family had been engaged in manual scavenging for generations. However, Wilson was spared the labour to be the first in his family to pursue a 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. Beginning by “changing the mindsets of his family and relatives” – that being a Dalit is not their fate but a status imposed by how society has been organized – in 1986 made his first public intervention by sending a complaint about dry latrines to the authorities of their town.
When he was ignored, he sent the complaint to the Prime Minister, threatening legal action. As a result, the town’s dry latrines were converted into water-seal latrines and the scavengers transferred to non-scavenging jobs. This emboldened him move to other states, and working with Dalit activists, launch SKA in 1993.
Its first major policy intervention was, when it initiated a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court, naming all states, union territories, and the government departments of railways, defence, judiciary and education as violators of the 1993 Prohibition Act banning dry latrines and the employment of manual scavengers.

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