Ashoka Fellow Bezwada Wilson is one of two Indian awardees of the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for 2016. Wilson was elected to the global Ashoka Fellowship in 2009 for his work on leading a nation-wide movement to abolish the dehumanizing and exclusionary practice of manual scavenging across India.
As the national convernor of the Safai Karamchari Andolan (SKA), Wilson and the movement spurred by him, have served as a watchdog pushing for legal action to demolish dry toilets across India and prepare manual scavengers, most of who are dalits, to pursue a new life of dignity and equal political, social and economic rights in the country. During the last 32 years, Wilson has successfully pushed to end the discriminatory practice of manual scavenging and break the cycle of violence, poverty and exploitation that manual scavengers were born into, and found impossible to break.
Starting in 1996, the SKA built a strong advocacy network nationally, and inspired manual scavengers to fight for their right to live a life of dignity. This fight has emancipated over 300,000 manual scavengers in the country.
Ashoka is elated that Wilson’s efforts to create a platform for these marginalised voices have been recognised by the Ramon Magsaysay Award committee for “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.”
In addition to his great success on the ground in mobilizing support to end manual scavenging, Wilson has lobbied with the government to introduce the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013, under which rehabilitation schemes have been added into the existing law on manual scavenging. Wilson has untiringly worked for the economic, social and political upliftment of the lower castes, who, in a deeply stratified society, still suffer the injustice of inhuman treatment. The SKA, under Wilson’s leadership, has inspired small organisations across the county to reach a wider number of manual scavengers, and give them a platform to advocate for an equal right to life of dignity.
The Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation has previously honoured Ashoka Fellows Arvind Kejriwal, Butet Manurung, Harish Hande, Anshu Gupta, Tri Mumpuni, Hasanain Juaini, Ananda Galappatti, and Mahabir Pun.
Ashoka is the one of the largest networks of social entrepreneurs worldwide, with more than 3,000 Ashoka Fellows in 89 countries creating large-scale impact through new innovations. Founded by Bill Drayton in 1980, Ashoka is an international network that is driving the social sector and offering a platform for people dedicated to changing the world. Ashoka pioneered the field of social entrepreneurship and has built multi-level stakeholders across the world who increasingly look to entrepreneurial talent and new ideas to solve social problems.
In India, Ashoka has a vibrant fellowship of over 370 fellows and elects a new cohort of Fellows every year. Going forward Ashoka India will also select and elect new Fellows from Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and play a unique role in integrating the emerging social sector in South Asia.