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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 1 January 6, 2024

Decision to return Magsaysay award and US degrees on the role of us in the war in Gaza | Sandeep Pandey

Friday 5 January 2024, by Sandeep Pandey


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 Phillippines 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 Univeristy in Manila which, coincidently, concluded on 31 August, the day Magsaysay Awards were handed over, to stage a protest at 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 Phillppines 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.

I think that the time has now come. Magsaysay Award is primarily funded by Rockefeller Foundation and the cartegory in which I received the award is funded by Ford Foundation, both American foundations. Given the role of 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 Phillippines if they feel hurt because of President Ramon Magsaysay’s name associated with this award. My protest is only because of the American connection with the award.

As I return the Magsaysay award I also feel that I should relieve myself of the degrees I have obtained in US. Hence, I am also taking a decision to return my Dual M.S. degrees in Manufacturing and Computer Engineerings to Syracuse Univeristy in upstate New York and my Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering degree to the University of California at Berkeley. Incidentally, I was made conscious 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 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 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.

Again let me make it clear that I am not against the American people or even the country. In fact, I think the US is one country which respects the human rights the most and offers the best freedom of expression, but sadly it is true only within the country. Outide the US, it seems to have little regard for human rights, especially of the third world countries. If it respects justice then it should stand with the side facing oppression in any war. It took the correct position in the Russian war on Ukraine but when it comes to Israel against Palestine it is inexplicable why the US chooses to turn a blind eye to the misfortunes and sufferings of the Palestinians and overlooks 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.

I have to take the hard decision because I think US is singularly responsible in encouraging Israel to continue its aggression against Palestinians contrary to the 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 sovereign state of Palestine and its recognition by 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 Afghanisatan, much bigger in area, to Taliban on a silver platter knowning very well that it was jeopardizing the civil liberties of common Afghans, especially the women, parrots the Israeli position about Hamas being a terrorist organistion 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 governnent.

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