Carnatic music exponent T.M. Krishna and social activist Bezwada Wilson are two Indians who have been conferred the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for this year, in 2016.
While Krishna got the award for “ensuring social inclusiveness in culture”, Wilson was selected for “asserting the inalienable right to a life of human dignity”, according to their citations.
“The healing power of music is an idea that often does not rise beyond being a platitude, a comfortable truism. But a young artist in India is showing that music can indeed be a deeply transformative force in personal lives and society itself.
“In electing Thodur Madabusi Krishna to receive the 2016 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership, the board of trustees recognizes his forceful commitment as artist and advocate to art’s power to heal India’s deep social divisions, breaking barriers of caste and class to unleash what music has to offer not just for some but for all,” reads Krishna’s citation.
For Wilson, the jury noted: “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.”
Krishna, 40, was trained from the age of six in Carnatic music under masters of the form. Though he earned a degree in economics, he chose to be an artist and quickly rose to become a highly admired concert performer.
Recognizing that dismantling artistic hierarchy can be a way of changing India’s divisive society, Krishna devoted himself to democratizing the arts, it said.
According to his citation, Carnatic music though started centuries ago in temples and courts, 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.
“He (Krishna) 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,” it said.
In 2004, Krishna founded Sumanasa Foundation that identified gifted rural youth who lacked the opportunities to develop their talent, and brought them to Chennai to train under well-known artists, and in 2008, started the Svanubhava movement to bring together students of diverse social backgrounds to interact with renowned artists and learn about different art forms.
During the period 2011-2013, Krishna brought his passion and artistry to war-ravaged northern Sri Lanka, the first Carnatic musician to tour that region in three decades, and launched two festivals to promote “culture retrieval and revival” in that country, the citation said.
Now a leading advocate in India of “music for all and music for a better quality of life,” he says: “Music and the arts are capable of bridging cultures and civilizations and liberating us from artificial divisions of caste and race,” states the citation.
Wilson, 50, has spent 32 years in his crusade, his citation read
Born in a Dalit family in Karnataka’s Kolar, he was the first in his family, which had been engaged in manual scavenging for generations, to go for higher education.
Treated as an outcast in school and acutely aware of his family’s lot, Wilson was filled with great anger; but he would later channel this anger to a crusade to eradicate manual scavenging, it said, adding he started by changing the mindset of his family and relatives – that being a Dalit is not their fate but a status imposed by society and that no human being should be made to do such demeaning work as scavenging.
In 1986, he sent a complaint about dry latrines to the authorities of their town, and when he was ignored sent the complaint to the Prime Minister and threatened legal action. As a result, the town’s dry latrines were converted and scavengers transferred to non-scavenging jobs.
Four other Magsaysay Award winners this year are Conchita Carpio-Morales from the Philippines, Dompet Dhuafa from Indonesia, Vientiane Rescue from Laos and Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers.
Instituted in 1957, the award named after the late President Ramon Magsaysay of the Philippines is bestowed on persons as well as organisations for “greatness of spirit and transformative leadership” in Asia.
The trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation annually select the awardees, who have presented a certificate and a medallion with an embossed image of Magsaysay in profile. It carries $50,000 in award money.
The award is presented at formal ceremonies in Manila, on August 31, the birth anniversary of Magsaysay, the third President of the Philippines. (IANS)
India-Pakistan relations have hit a record low following the dastardly Pulwama Attack on a CRPF convoy in Indian administered Kashmir, on the 14th of February this year. Curiously, the Pakistan PM Imran Khan, made a statement a few days ago, endorsing the Indian PM Modi, and suggesting, that in case there was a re-election of the latter, the Kashmir issue may be finally resolved. This scenario is significant, given that both Imran and Modi, are perceived hardliners in their respective nations. As some South Asian policy watchers have noted, it is hawks like the two aforementioned heads of state, and not peaceniks, who are more likely to take large risks over bilateral issues involving the two neighbours, since if any of them is required to acquiesce, they cannot be labelled as anti-nationals. Peaceniks, their good intentions aside, are looked upon with suspicion in their countries, which accuse them of selling out.
These are the heady days of jingoist patriotism in South Asia, where Right Wing organizations seem to be faring much better than the other political alternatives; but there was a time not very long ago, when Southern Asia was in a sweet spot between Dictatorship and Democracy, where conducive factors facilitated the spectre of Left-Wing radicalism, in both India and Pakistan. Between the imprisonment of Pakistan’s democratically elected PM Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and the mysterious plane crash that killed President Zia ul Haq in 1988, a shadowy entity by the name of Al-Zulfiqar had emerged out of the pale, and rocked the Zia dictatorship, with its nuisance value. What were the origins of Al Zulfiqar, and who, was its chief executive officer?
We must retrace our steps to the early 1970s, when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was the Pakistan president. His eldest son, and second-born, Mir Murtaza, would build a lavish tent on the sprawling lawns of 70 Clifton, the Bhutto residence at Karachi. Inside the private sanctuary he had made for himself, the young lad would read the influential works of prominent Marxist revolutionaries like Lenin, Mao, and Che Guevara. The walls of his tent would be adorned with posters of world-famous figures, who had adopted Marxist techniques and applied them to their personal agendas. Murtaza had become deeply involved with the guerrilla warfare ethos of Socialist insurgents and quickly became a role model for his younger male sibling, Shahnawaz, junior to him by four years.
Sensing that the wayward, and obstinate nature of the older Bhutto was getting him into trouble with his high school officials and law enforcement, Zulfiqar had insisted, that Murtaza abandon his tent, and his Leftist reactionary literature, to concentrate on his school syllabus, so that the straight and the narrow could produce results for the latter. As soon as it became possible, and after consulting his wife Nusrat Bhutto, the President had packed off his enfant terrible to study in the United States, and then to England, where he hoped, that a new environment would change him. It was here, that Murtaza shone. A thorough academic, he researched upon and produced a dissertation, concerning the consequences of India’s nuclear program, on Pakistan. He developed the reputation of being a cad, and somewhat of a lady’s man as well, during his student years in London, where he was a regular sighting at nightclubs, with one or the other pretty girl, on his arm.
His father, had made the issue of the ‘Muslim Bomb’ an international one, arguing, that since the Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Marxist political spheres had their own, ultimate weapon of mass destruction, it was only fair that the Islamic world follow suit. Israel though not openly belligerent with the bomb, was suspected of being in possession of the technology to construct one, in 1966 itself. Moreover, it had refused to sign the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty). Pakistan, under his leadership, he had sworn, would ‘gift’ the Muslim world with its first nuclear weapon. The president’s (and later, Prime Minister’s) son, would broach the topic on an academic level, and make its knowledge, widespread.
Murtaza was yet abroad, when his father, by the time, the democratically elected Prime Minister of his country, was toppled in mid-1977, in a military coup, headed by General Zia ul Haq, who until the event, had been Zulfiqar’s handpicked Chief of the Pakistan Armed Forces; and a man, that the confident, and arrogant premier, termed his ‘monkey general’. In a letter, handwritten to her brother, Benazir had advised him to travel to the United States, to meet with American leadership, that were friendly with the Pakistan Peoples Party, to plead for assistance in toppling the dictatorship of Zia. Interestingly, she had told him to steer clear of a top Bhutto aide, Ghulam Mustafa Khar. This is testified by Lt. General Khalid Mahmud Arif in his book Working With Zia. Khar, an uncle of PPP ex-Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar (2008 – 2013), had been a confidante of Prime Minister Bhutto, who he faithfully plied to the home of Bhutto’s first, secret mistress, and then, legally married third wife, Husna Sheikh, on a daily basis.
From the United States, Mir Murtaza had decided that it was not judicious to return to a strife-ridden homeland, which was experiencing its umpteenth military rule. Instead, he had flown to Syria and then Libya, to garner support from Hafez al-Assad and Muammar Gaddafi respectively. The Assads and Gaddafi were supportive of the Bhuttos. Zia to them, was an American puppet that had been installed as a means to an end, that too, through an undemocratic and unpopular regime change. It was in Syria occupied Lebanon, that Murtaza had begun building up a guerrilla outfit, which he named, the PLA (Pakistan Liberation Army). Members from the PPP back in Pakistan, were herded off to the Middle East, for rigorous guerrilla training, that was imparted by the Leftist PFLP (Popular Front For The Liberation Of Palestine). When Mir Murtaza deemed that the time was ripe for ambushing Zia’s men in positions of power; the trained militia of PLA flew to Afghanistan, where they continued further arms training, awaiting an opportune moment, to cross into their homeland, using the mountainous, and lawless tribal routes of northern Pakistan, which flanked the Durand Line.
While in Kabul, Murtaza Bhutto decided to rename his outfit Al-Zulfiqar Organization, or AZO. Shahnawaz, the younger son of the jailed premier, joined his older brother and was imparted training in guerrilla warfare, and violent Marxist insurrection. When not wielding guns in army fatigues, the young volunteers and the Bhutto brothers, would watch Bollywood flicks to kill time.
Initially, all Shahnawaz wished to do, was to open a tourist agency in Pakistan, and live quietly with the Afghan object of his affections. But the restless circumstances that engulfed the young man, forced him to join Al-Zulfiqar, all the more so, as it had his older brother at its helm; a man he had much admired from the days of his youth.
One of the first acts of the AZO, was to try to blow up Zia-ul-Haq’s plane with a missile, from an Islamabad rooftop. It did not produce the desired result. Next, was the hijack of a PIA (Pakistan International Airlines) flight. It was flown to Kabul, where the hijackers stated that the plane and its passengers would only be released if ninety-one political prisoners from the PPP, were set free from incarceration in Pakistan. Zia’s response initially, was a “No”. But once it became eminent, that there were no international mediators to take on the case on behalf of Pakistan; especially once Assad and Gaddafi explained the dilemma to General Zia, the latter was forced to rethink his stand. By then, AZO had reduced the demand from ninety-one prisoners, to some fifty-four of them. The Pakistan general was forced to comply with Murtaza’s bargain, as it released the PPP detainees from various gaols in the country, who were then swapped for the PIA plane and its passengers.
The mastermind of the hijack, was a seamlessly trained Salamullah Tipu, who was seen waving his gun in the air triumphantly from the door of the airplane, after throwing down the bloodied and dead corpse, of one Major Tariq Rahim on the tarmac. Rahim was a close aide of the Zia administration. While Tipu took the blame upon himself, and the PPP back in Karachi, led by Benazir and her mother Nusrat, denied any knowledge or existence of the AZO, Mir Murtaza Bhutto continued to avoid Pakistani authorities, was never caught on camera during the hijack episode, and was declared a wanted criminal by the Pak judiciary, in absentia.
In his biography of the older Bhutto scion, The Terrorist Prince: Life And Death Of Murtaza Bhutto, author, student activist, and political henchman Raja Anwar, notes, that a paranoid Murtaza had ordered for the assassination of anyone who he feared would challenge his methods as head of AZO. A sizeable number of its members were apprehended from their homes, murdered, and dumped in shallow ditches. The same author states, how he himself, Shahnawaz, Mir Murtaza, and some other workers of Al-Zulfiqar, had received lodging, food, money, and military training, in New Delhi. The government of Indira Gandhi, a Centre-Left political organization in India that is recognized as the Indian National Congress, had housed and funded the Bhutto revolutionaries and their fighters, with an eye on ending the rule of the hated Zia. In the late 1980s, when Murtaza had made a stopover at Delhi, during one of his journeys abroad, he had personally met Rajiv, son of Indira, and her successor as the next premier of India, with a large, and impressive bouquet of flowers.
The AZO leaders and members resided in the outskirts of India’s capital, and led well-oiled, luxurious lives, while simultaneously receiving training to destabilize the regime of Zia ul Haq. In this duration, the Bhutto brothers had come close to the Nehru-Gandhi clan of India, and according to a number of verified reports, may have worked as R&AW (Research & Analysis Wing, India’s topmost espionage and intelligence agency) informants for a period of time. A common agenda; that of toppling the American-installed, Islamist, and regressive regime of Zia, being the binding force.