It is a great honor to receive the
Ramon Magsaysay Award. Though I have been singled out to receive the award,
it in fact belongs to the many women and men with whom I have had the good
fortune to share struggles and emerging visions for a better world. No
individual, however, endowed can bring about social change on their own.
Community work is a collective exercise, and the greatest potential and
challenge of the human condition is to work together to realize dreams far
beyond the barriers of individual limitations. It is my conviction that this
is true for the work we do, the ideas we generate, as well as the leadership
One of the colossal tragedies that we face today is that in a world of
plenty, we still have countless people who live in conditions of abject
poverty and deprivation. Can we create conditions where our fellow citizens
have an equal opportunity to contribute not just their labor, but also their
knowledge, understanding and intelligent perception of change? Can we
effectively challenge the established norms that limit the contribution of
human beings because of hierarchies of exclusion? Are we willing to
critically examine our own roles in perpetuating systems of exploitation
through our actions and our silences? Do we not have equal rights to benefit
from the common heritage of our planet? Can we work out the modes that will
allow us to move towards an order based on the principles of justice and
equality? Who will do so? How will we do it?
I do not think any of us doubt the need to increase our levels of
participation and involvement in issues of common interest. The universal
attraction of democratic principles is that sovereignty rests with the
people. But democracy is meaningful only when its specifics are worked out.
The principles of democracy are universal. But for ordinary people, it is
the practice of democracy that defines the principles. The socio-political
circumstances of Asian countries like India, provide the opportunity to make
democracy a vehicle of change, in which the collective wisdom of people is
given the sanctity it deserves. Democratic struggle becomes both an end and
a means to a more participatory form of governance. It is in this attempt to
change from subjects to being the actual masters, that the campaign for the
people’s right to information took root in rural Rajasthan. Their collective
understanding and contribution has changed the perspective of an academic
and esoteric issue into a potent tool and principle of living.
It has been a process that has illustrated the potential of relatively small
groups of people working together to wage an ethical struggle against far
more powerful adversaries.
I feel honored most of all because I see this award as a recognition of
those processes. The struggle in Rajasthan has not only drawn strength from
community participation, but also from the understanding that communities
acting together to provide leadership, have greater resilience, energy and
creativity than any individual.
I come here today to accept this award, on behalf of the organizations I
work with in Rajasthan and the many others in India who have energized this
ongoing struggle. The cash prize will go to a Trust recently set up to
support individuals and organizations engaged in similar democratic
I would like to thank the Ramon Magsaysay Foundation for providing a
platform to share our perceptions. I also take the opportunity to urge the
Foundation to include the eligibility of collectives and organizations in
the category of Community Leadership. For it is to the collectives of
ordinary people, the issues and processes they have fought for, and the
greatness of their human spirit that this recognition truly belongs.