The Ramon Magsaysay Awards 2016 were awarded on Monday. 2 Indians, T.M. Krishna, and Bezwada Wilson, were recognized for their work on social inclusiveness for oppressed communities.
Using Music As A Medium For Inclusion:
T.M. Krishna started learning Carnatic music from the age of 6. Now at the age of 40, he has a huge group of ardent followers who swear by his musical talents. Even as he mastered the art, though, it also made him observe the class and caste segregation that Carnatic music brought.
Carnatic music is apparently meant to be enjoyed by the higher castes. According to Krishna, the kutcheris (concerts) have become private affairs instead of being held in public spaces for everyone to attend.
This is where he tries to separate himself from the Carnatic traditions. He would leave a song in between, saying that the bhava of the song came from the music and not from the words. He would change the order of the performances as he saw fit, causing traditionalists much exasperation.
He even had the courage to reach out to Tamilians in Sri Lanka after the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, when no one else could imagine doing so. His motive: To help the region rebuild its classical music traditions.
Through the “Urur Kuppum Margazhi Vizha” festival, he is trying to find artists from the non-Carnatic world. Held in a sea-side village, he is trying to bring Carnatic music away from the town halls where they are usually held and to the common folk.
Improving The Lives Of Manual Scavengers:
Bezwada Wilson was born in a family who had done manual scavenging for generations. The real problem does not lie in the job which has to be done, that of picking up human excreta from dry latrines. The real problem is that almost all manual scavengers are from the lower castes, and around 90% of them are women.
Mr. Wilson then took it upon himself to solve the problem. He formed the Safai Karamchari Andolan in 1993. After the Parliament abolished manual scavenging, they went around demolishing dry latrines and creating awareness about their work conditions.
He has been called a bhangi (scavenger) many times. But that doesn’t demotivate him. He has helped countless people find alternative jobs and lead a life of respect. His operations have now spread across 25 states. Because of him, the number of people in such jobs in India has almost halved.
His fight still continues. Fighting for the minority means that the real difficulty lies not in getting the scavengers to leave their jobs, but to help them become an equal part of the society.
It feels sad to notice that even though foreign institutions notice their work, we Indians do not do the same. I feel that the recognition they got from winning the Magsaysay Awards will not make their work any easier. T.M. Krishna might still find it hard to bring Carnatic music to the masses. Bezwada Wilson will still face opposition from the upper castes.
But they have already faced these difficulties and succeeded. I hope that they continue to do so. And I also hope that this award brings awareness about a few situations that we rarely talk about so that even a few people’s lives can be made better.
A situation like this one, for instance: