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Thursday 20 October 2011

Binayak Sen and Bullu Imam seek change in title of Gandhi Foundation award

By Sanjeev Shekhar 

Ranchi- Based on series of protests by the various tribal intellectuals, social workers and professionals working for the indigenous groups of India, Dr. Binayak Sen and Bulu Imam openly supported the cause of tribals and demanded change in the ‘name or wording’ of Gandhi International Peace Award 2011 to “The Tribal People of India”. They stated that they do not represent Adivasis of the country. 

However, clouds are yet to clear whether they would actually go to London to receive the award or not? The award ceremony would be held on November 9, 2011 at Amnesty International (UK). 

In a letter to the think-tank and leader of the Jharkhand Human Rights Movement Gladson Dung-Dung, Dr. Binayak Sen and his wife Ilina Sen candidly admitted that they understand sentiments and feelings of tribals for which this discussion was extremely important at this juncture. 

“The extended public profiling of Binayak has never been at our initiative and we would happily step back to a less fractured existence, one that has played havoc with our personal lives. However, we have used this profiling to raise issues related to the dysfunctional developmental policies and their effects on the lives and concerns of the people of India, which has meant that we have often spoken of the people we know most closely, the toiling people and Adivasis of central india. At no point have we claimed to represent the Adivasis,” wrote Binayak and Ilina from Vellore, where the latter was undergoing treatment. 

Their letter further observed that Trustees of the Gandhi Foundation could chose to alter the wording of the citation appropriately (eg:-for work among tribal people) should it choose to confer the award to Bulu Imam and Binayak Sen as per their announcement. They might also choose to award it to the Tribal people of India as per their original citation and sort out the issue of representation as they think was appropriate. 

The panel member of the Planning Commission Gladson Dung-Dung wrote to the Gandhi Foundation on October 15, 2011 regarding the sentiments of various tribal organizations protesting the Foundation decision to handover the Gandhi International Peace Award 2011 to “The Tribal People of India” to non-Adivasi. Tribals under the banner of “Jharkhand Human Rights Movement” and “Jharkhand Indigenous People’s Forum” jointly lodged their protest to the President of the Gandhi Foundation, Richard Attenborough. Either, they urged him to change the name of the award or if the award was to be given to Adivasis it should be given to Adivasi representative, who struggled for their cause. 

Meanwhile, Robert Wallis, the well-known journalist wrote to tribal forum representative about the development at the Gandhi Foundation. Robert was the person who had seconded the nomination of Bulu Imam and Binayak Sen for the said award that apparently now has precipitated the crisis due to nomenclature and subsequent naming of the recipients. 

Robert Wallis wrote to Galdson and protesting tribal social groups, “I think that the Gandhi Foundation, at this stage, would find it very difficult not to give the award to Dr. Sen and to Bulu whom they have already publicly recognised for their work in Chhattisgargh and Jharkhand. They have told me they are changing the wording of the award for the reasons you have clearly outlined. I am waiting for this to happen, as you are. Again, I think it was not an intentional lack of respect but a lack of awareness that made them word the award in the way they did.” 

Explaining about the background of this issue, he elaborated as to how things reached this stage. Robert wrote in his e-mail to protesting groups, “Earlier this year I was informed by the Gandhi Foundation that Dr. Sen and Bulu Imam had been nominated for their annual Peace Award and that they were considering giving the prize jointly to both men. I do not personally know Dr. Sen but I have worked closely with Bulu on trips to Jharkhand in 2006 and 2010 documenting the devastating impact of mining. This resulted in my recent photo exhibition here in London that included work by the Tribal Women's Artist Cooperative. Because I know Bulu quite well and I am familiar with his work, including the Karanpura Campaign, the Gandhi Foundation asked if I would support and 2nd his nomination for the award. I was happy to do this.” 

He further clarified in his letter that due to the nature of the work both Bulu and Dr. Sen had been doing, and the growing violence against Adivasi across the mining states, the Gandhi Foundation decided that they would make the award to both men on behalf of Adivasis. Although their intentions were honourable, the Foundation now realises this was a mistake. They have been meeting over the weekend and I am told that they would be withdrawing phrase from their award, Robert concluded.

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