Bezwada Wilson was about 17 when the inhuman nature of work done by his parents and members of his community first raised questions in his mind.
Born into a Dalit family engaged in manual scavenging at Kolar Gold Fields, near Bengaluru, Wilson struck out, becoming a first-generation literate. He devoted the next nearly three decades to eradicate manual scavenging.
On Wednesday, he was chosen for this year’s Ramon Magsaysay Award — for “asserting the inalienable right to a life of human dignity”.
Wilson runs the Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA) from an office in Patel Nagar, Delhi. “SKA has functioned as a movement; it is not an NGO. Anyone who wants to fight these inhuman practices can be associated with it.”
And the award can only be a pit stop. “We still have a long way to go to ensure inhuman activities such as manual scavenging is completely eradicated,” he said. “The country still has around 2 lakh people engaged in manual scavenging. Numerous septic tank deaths have been reported in the country. There is an urgent need to address these concerns.”
The self-proclaimed follower of “Ambedkar’s ideas” said the honour is for “all those who have devoted their lives fighting for these rights. Without their support, this achievement would not have been possible”.