TM Krishna
TM KrishnaWikimedia Commons

Carnatic musician Thodur Madabusi Krishna from Chennai and social activist Bezwada Wilson are among the winners of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for 2016.

Besides them, four other people -- Conchita Carpio-Morales from the Philippines, Dompet Dhuafa from Indonesia, Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers and Vientiane Rescue from Laos -- have also won the prestigious award.

Forty-year-old Krishna was awarded for "ensuring social inclusiveness in culture," while Wilson won the award for "asserting the inalienable right to a life of human dignity."

"Though he earned a degree in economics, Krishna chose to be an artist and quickly rose to become a highly-admired concert performer of Carnatic classical music... An ancient vocal and instrumental musical system, Carnatic music started centuries ago in temples and courts but was 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," Krishna's citation said.

"In electing Thodur Madabusi Krishna to receive the 2016 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership, the board of trustees recognises 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," the citation added.

Krishna was the president of the Youth Association for Classical Music in the 1990s. He performed in war-torn northern Sri Lanka from 2011-2013, the first Carnatic music tour in that region in around 30 years, and also launched two festivals to promote culture retrieval and revival in the country.

"Manual scavenging is blight on humanity in India. Consigned by structural inequality to the Dalits, India's 'untouchables', manual scavenging is the work of removing by hand human excrement from dry latrines and carrying on the head the baskets of excrement to designated disposal sites," Wilson's citation said.

"A hereditary occupation, manual scavenging involves 180,000 Dalit households cleaning the 790,000 public and private dry latrines across India; 98 per cent of scavengers are meagerly paid women and girls. While the Constitution and other laws prohibit dry latrines and the employment of manual scavengers, these have not been strictly enforced since government itself is the biggest violator," the citation added.

Wilson was born into a Dalit family that was involved in manual scavenging in Karnataka. He spent 32 years on his "crusade, leading not only with a sense of moral outrage but also with remarkable skills in mass organising, and working within India's complex legal system."

The award, named after former Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay, is considered Asia's highest honour and is given to those who selflessly serve the society. It was established in 1957.