As Gandhi’s heir, he brought the method of non-violence to the conflicts of youth gangs and peasant marches for land rights. In May he was awarded the 2023 Niwano Prize.
He has himself called just by his first name to avoid being identified with a caste. And for fifty years in India – following the example of Mahatma Gandhi – he has been fighting with non-violent methods for the rights of the poorest and most marginalized populations.
Rajagopal P.V., is the 74-year-old Indian activist chosen for the 2023 Niwano Prize, the prestigious award for his commitment to peace awarded every year by the foundation of the same name. Considered the “Nobel of Religions”, the prize – which commemorates the figure of Nikkyo Niwano, first president of the Buddhist organization Rissho Kosei-kat – was officially presented in Tokyo on 11 May at the end of a selection process that involves 600 people and organizations representing 125 countries and many faiths.
Originally from Kerala, Rajagopal began his social activism in the Chambal valley, in Madhya Pradesh, dedicating himself to the boys of the dacoits, the violent youth gangs of the most marginalized sections of the population.
The culmination of these efforts was the foundation in 1991 of the Ekta Parrshad (the “Forum of Unity”). In collaboration with other groups, this movement has managed to ensure property rights on the land for about 500,000 families and to get the Forest Rights Act approved, the most important law on the rights of tribal populations in India.
In 2019 he launched the Global Peace Yatra with the aim of walking from New Delhi to the UN headquarters in Geneva to relaunch the Sustainable Development Goals; however, the pandemic stopped him when he arrived in Armenia. Rajagopal and his association then diverted their commitment to actions to alleviate the consequences of Covid-19 in India.
Regarding the motivation for the award, the Niwano Foundation speaks of Rajagopal’s struggle “for the recognition of the equal human dignity of every man and woman, regardless of caste or sex, which arouses great admiration. Among the particular results of his action are the negotiation of surrender and the rehabilitation of gangs, the education of young people to serve the needy and, in the awareness that the basic needs of the poor are water, land and forests, and his commitment to caring for the environment.”
The Niwano Peace Foundation was chartered in 1978 to contribute to the realization of world peace and the enhancement of a culture of peace, promoting research and other activities based on the spirit of religious principles. Additionally, it serves to promote the cause of peace in fields such as education, science, religion and philosophy.
Former recipients of the Prize include Lutheran Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan, late Brazilian Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, Anglican missionary priest and anti-apartheid activist Michael Lapsley, and the Community of Sant’Egidio (Italy). (G.B.)