One of the few who have reacted in full-throated way to Palestine tragedy, activist-academic Sandeep Pandey will return his Magsaysay Award besides his US degrees in the backdrop of the killings by Humra Quraishi
Apprehensions, worries and fears spreading out, as this sarkar insists on using religion for political mileage. It’s rather too obvious; even the naïve do understand the game plans of the Right-Wing forces in this election year, but they seem utterly helpless. After all, the masses cannot outdo the State’s might, even as political tactics are only compounding the tense scenario. There seems to be a crisis turning point in the very democratic set-up as there’s little of the democracy and more of the very obvious political agenda. Tense times, with relays of what more could unfold to unsettle, sabotage and silence the democratic structures …rather, whatever remains of them.
Only once in a while, brave rebel voices do come up which carry the courage to veto, cry hoarse to the Agenda. A rarity in today’s India and also in today’s deeply polarized world. Cry out as much as one can that we are a developed-cum- civilized lot but the reality is quite the opposite. Masses can be butchered in hundreds and thousands but there’s no stopping to the violent killings.
The present ongoing onslaught on the Palestinians by the Israeli forces relays the helplessness of the civilians. More so, as their killers are backed by the superpower of the world. Only a handful amongst us have reacted in that full-throated way to the killings in Palestine. In fact, this brings me to write that I just received this message from the Lucknow-based activist-academic Sandeep Pandey, who has decided to return his Magsaysay Award and also all his US degrees in the backdrop of the “role of the US in war in Gaza.” To quote Sandeep Pandey on this: “When I received the Magsaysay Award in 2002, a little controversy was created due to my decision to participate in a protest outside United States embassy in Manila against the impending attack on Iraq, immediately a day after the award ceremony in which the award was handed over by the Philippines President. The then Chairperson of Magsaysay Foundation had tried to dissuade me from participating in the protest on the pretext that it’ll harm the reputation of the foundation. My contention was that the award mentioned my participation in a peace march in India for global nuclear disarmament from Pokaran to Sarnath in 1999 and hence my anti-war position was well known. I had to honour the decision taken at a peace conference at University in Manila which, coincidently, concluded on 31 August, the day Magsaysay Awards were handed over, to stage a protest at the US embassy as I was invited to the conference as well. After the protest on 1 September, a Manila newspaper, in an editorial challenged me saying that if I was the principled man that I would like them to believe then I should return the award to the US embassy before returning to India, This made the decision easier for me. I returned the cash component of the award from the airport which came from the Ford Foundation of the U.S. but in a letter to the Chairperson of Magsaysay Foundation I said that for the time being I was keeping the award as it was named after a former popular Philippines President and had been given in my country to personalities like Jayaprakash Narayan, Vinoba Bhave and Baba Amte, whom I considered as my ideals. I had mentioned in that letter that if the Magsaysay Foundation ever thought that I was harming their reputation too much, I would be happy to return the award as well.” He further details: “ I think that the time has now come. Magsaysay Award is primarily funded by Rockefeller Foundation and the category in which I received the award is funded by Ford Foundation, both American foundations. Given the role of the US in blatantly supporting Israel in the current offensive against Palestinian citizens, more than 21,500 of whom are dead, and still continuing to sell arms to Israel, it has become unbearable for me to keep the award. I, therefore, am deciding to finally return the award too. I would like to apologise to the people of the Philippines if they feel hurt because of the association of President Ramon Magsaysay’s name with this award. My protest is only because of the American connection with the award… I have to take the hard decision because I think the US is singularly responsible in encouraging Israel to continue its aggression against Palestinians contrary to popular world opinion. It could have played the role of mediator, like it once did, and tried to negotiate peace between Israel and Palestine. Creation of the sovereign state of Palestine and its recognition by the United Nations as a full member is essential towards the solution of the problem. But it is strange that US, which not very long back handed over Afghanistan, much bigger in area, to Taliban on a silver platter knowing very well that it was jeopardizing the civil liberties of common Afghans, especially the women, parrots the Israeli position about Hamas being a terrorist organization ignoring the fact that Hamas has won an election in Palestine, unlike the Taliban. I feel that it is time to call out the double standards of US government… it is inexplicable why the US chooses to turn a blind eye to the misfortunes and sufferings of the Palestinians and overlook the crimes of Israeli defence forces. Had it been any other country, it would have imposed sanctions against it, like it did along with the rest of the world against South Africa, when apartheid was still practiced there.”
Pandey has also decided to return his US degrees. To the ‘why’, he explains: “As I return the Magsaysay award I also feel that I should relieve myself of the degrees I have obtained in the US. Hence, I am also taking a decision to return my Dual M.S. degrees in Manufacturing and Computer Engineering to Syracuse University in upstate New York and my Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering degree to the University of California at Berkeley. Incidentally, I was made aware of involvement of US academic institutions, especially their engineering and science departments, in defence projects during the protest on Berkeley campus in 1991 against the US war on Iraq launched by senior President Bush. A Professor Pravin Varaiya of Electrical Engineering, whose research area, Control Systems, was the same as mine, and who was a participant in the anti-was protests, made me realize that I was also unknowingly part of the war machine of the United States. Thus began my disillusionment with my research area and I decided to change my research area once I began teaching at Indian Institute of Technology at Kanpur in 1992.”
Ending this column with this verse of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish:
‘Pride and Fury
O Homeland! O Eagle,
Plunging, through the bars of my cell,
Your fiery beak in my eyes!
All I possess in the presence of death
Is pride and fury.
I have willed that my heart be planted as a tree,
That my forehead become an abode for skylarks.
I am unworthy of your lofty wing,
I prefer a crown of flame.
We were born and raised in your wound,
And ate the fruit of your trees,
To witness the birth of your daybreak.
O eagle unjustly languishing in chains,
O legendary death which once was sought,
Your fiery beak is still plunged in my eye.’