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Binayak Sen turns down Gandhi Foundation Award

The Trustees of The Gandhi Foundation, London.

Dear Friends,

Ilina and I appreciate deeply the solidarity and support extended by
so many friends from the United Kingdom and across the world in the
course of my trial and incarceration. We were looking forward to
meeting at least a few of you in the course of our proposed visit to
the United Kingdom in November.

The original citation of the Gandhi International Peace Award when it
came, was a surprise, as I on my own had never claimed to be a
representative of the tribal people of India. However, I had always
proudly claimed the heritage of a vernacular and indigenous life-world
that was egalitarian and sustainable, and since the awarding body was
free to make its own ascription, I humbly accepted the responsibility
being put on me. I was fully aware that there could be many views
about my fitness to undertake such a task, but it never occurred to me
that my ethnic identity, in that I was not ethnically a member of the
tribal people of India, would stand in my way.

To my understanding, the ethnic indigenous people of the world have
suffered terrible violence in the course of the development of the
capitalist state, a violence that has been directed equally against
all colonized people, the working class, and other subaltern sections.
Efforts to build a new society must be made by all oppressed people
together. To claim to take on board the politics of genetic ethnicity
as a part of this effort is a form of racism, and racism never smelt
sweeter merely because it was articulated from the platform of a
subaltern identity.

What we are confronting throughout India today is widespread hunger,
compounded by widespread displacement, to the extent that it
constitutes a stable famine spread over large parts of the country and
over large sections of its people. Access to appropriate health care
remains a dream for all except a privileged minority. The penetration
of global capital into resource rich ‘undeveloped’ regions, and the
operation of industrial and mining interests in these areas have been
responsible for this displacement and disenfranchisement of
communities. State policies in countries like ours are aiding rather
than curbing these processes. Urgent measures are needed to combat
this hunger, stop this displacement and ensure equity, human rights,
and social justice. However, voices of dissent are deliberately
suppressed through outdated laws and juridical processes, and
thousands of citizens languish in prison for opposition to these

In the context of the award, the changed citation has only led to
further contention and acrimony. Unfortunately, the process of
nomination, the thinking behind the original citation and that behind
the second, were never made public by the Gandhi Foundation. If the
first citation was problematic, the second was even more so, as in
this, the “Tribal People of India’ of the first citation did not find
any mention at all. This was not a position in which I could afford
to be complicit. The level of debate is now such that the paramount
issues outlined above threaten to be replaced by a palimpsest of
ethnic fundamentalism. Under the circumstances, the really important
task of delineating and combating the tragedy being enacted before our
eyes gets pushed to the background.

Accordingly, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that at the
present juncture it will not be appropriate for me to receive this
award. My thanks go to those who nominated and to those who selected
me for this award. It was never my intention to give offence or show
disrespect to any of the parties in this controversy. I greatly
regret any inconvenience that the organisers may be put to as a result
of my decision.

Yours sincerely,
Binayak Sen