An Indian activist who helped to set up a human rights group campaigning for the eradication of manual scavenging, a euphemism for disposing of faeces by hand, was awarded Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel prize on Wednesday.
The Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation named Bezwada Wilson one of six winners this year, citing his “moral energy and prodigious skill in leading a grassroots movement to eradicate the degrading servitude of manual scavenging in India”.
Disposing of faeces from dry toilets and open drains by hand to be carried on the head in baskets to disposal sites, has long been an occupation thrust upon members of the Dalit group, traditionally the lowest ranked in India’s caste system.
At least 90 percent of India’s estimated one million manual scavengers are women, a hereditary occupation involving 180,000 Dalit households cleaning the more than 700,000 public and private dry latrines across the country.
Wilson, 50, whose own family had been engaged in manual scavenging for generations, said the award was recognition for women workers who had said no to scavenging.
Wilson was spared from manual scavenging to be the first in his family to pursue higher education, the Manila-based Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation said.
(Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj)