Christians in India have expressed happiness over an Indian Christian winning the Ramon Magsaysay award for his work to eliminate manual scavenging. Bezwada Wilson, a Dalit Christian from the southern Indian state of Karnataka, and a member of the Church of South India, was July 27 announced as one of the six recipients of the 2016 Ramon Magsaysay Award. of the SafaiKarmachariAndolan (manual scavengers’ movement), was recognised for his efforts to eradicate manual scavenging — removing human waste from people’s latrines with a broom and carrying it away in a basket — done by hundreds of thousands of people as a source of income despite the Indian government in 2013 banning it. "This is a great honor for the church. It is a sign that people can come up in society despite all odds," Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, told ucanews.com. The church appreciates the work Wilson has been doing among manual scavengers. "He has lived the teachings of Christ in his life through his work," the bishop said. Reverend Y. Moses, a minister of the Church of South India and board member of Safai Karmachari Andolan foundation, recounted that "In the initial days, he (Wilson) was alone. It must have been really painful for him.” The Rev. Moses told ucanews.com that he will be accompanying Wilson to Manila for the award ceremony on Aug. 31. Although Wilson’s family had been engaged in manual scavenging for generations, he was spared the labor to be the first in his family to pursue a higher education. Wilson has been working to eliminate the practice of manual scavenging for over two decades. He founded the Safai Karamchari Andolan in 1994 to fight against this practice. The movement has grown into a network of 7,000 members in 500 districts across the country. The award recognizes Wilson’s work in "asserting the inalienable right to a life of human dignity. Of the estimated 600,000 scavengers in India, Wilson’s movement has liberated about half of them the award citation says. Father Z. Devasagayaraj, secretary of the Indian Catholic bishops' Office of Dalit and Indigenous People, lauded Wilson’s "moral energy and prodigious skill in leading a grassroots movement to eradicate the degrading servitude of manual scavenging in India." He said that the award is an "acknowledgement for his dedicated and committed service for the downtrodden to eradicate the subhuman work of manual scavenging," he said. It is also an encouragement for the people who are working for social change, he said. Salesian Father John Tharakan who is associated with Wilson and his work for the past two decades said Wilson "truly deserves this (award) and much more recognition for his work." "No one has ever worked like him — with the abused and oppressed manual scavengers aiming only at their betterment," he said.
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"The world has taken note of his commitment and contribution. I do hope that people of our country also respond likewise," Father Tharakan said. The Ramon Magsaysay Award, considered Asia's equivalent of the Nobel Prize and one of Asia's highest honors, was established in 1957 to celebrate the memory of the third Philippine president after whom it is named. The award is given every year to individuals or organizations in Asia who manifest "selfless service."