According to the 9-member Prize Committee, including Flaminia Giovanelli, their motivation in awarding the prize to Mr. Rajagopal is his lifelong commitment and work for the poorest and most marginalized in India based on the Gandhian principles of non-violent activism.
Mr. Rajagopal P.V., winner of the 2023 Niwano Peace Prize
The Niwano Peace Prize Committee has named Indian non-violent social activist Rajagopal P.V. as the recipient of the 40th Niwano Peace Prize in recognition of his extraordinary work in the service of justice and peace.
The prestigious award conferred by the Niwano Peace Foundation honours and encourages individuals and organizations that have contributed significantly to inter-religious cooperation, furthering the cause of world peace.
The nomination was announced on Wednesday, 15 February, by Ms Flaminia Giovanelli, former Under-Secretary of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development who is part of the Prize Committee.
In her statement she writes that: “Mr. Rajagopal’s actions in favour of the poorest and most marginalized of his country, carried out through peaceful and nonviolent methods, and his struggle for the recognition of the equal human dignity and equal rights of every man and woman, irrespective of cast or gender, inspire great admiration”.
Teaching young people peaceful and nonviolent methods
“His particular accomplishments that garner the highest esteem include negotiating the surrender and facilitating the rehabilitation of gangs, the education of young people in the service of the poor, and, well aware that the primary needs of the poor are water, land, and forests, his commitment to care for the environment”, continues the nomination statement remarking that his “work for justice is also carried forward through dialogue with institutions with a view to counteracting the phenomenon of land grabbing, and obtaining, through appropriate land reform, the redistribution of land and the assignment of land ownership”.
Activism for peace and social justice based on Ghandian non-violence
Born in 1948 in Kerala from a Ghandian family, Rajagopal started dedicating himself to the promotion of non-violent social activism at the beginning of the 1970s when he moved to the Chambal district of Madhya Pradesh. There he found endemic violence, the consequence of injustices and wrongs suffered by the population which had resulted in the growth of gangs (“dacoits”). Along with other senior Gandhian leaders, he became a peacemaker, obtaining the surrender and even the rehabilitation of the dacoits.
This courageous initiative paved the way for another of great significance that developed during the 1980s: the organization of regional and national youth training programs to promote the concept of nonviolent action for social change.
Mr. Rajagopal’s commitment to justice and peace culminated in the establishment of Ekta Parishad (Unity Forum), an umbrella mass-organization with the mission of nonviolent activism for securing land and livelihood rights for marginalized communities.
Thanks to Ekta Parishad, Mr. Rajagopal's social activism has taken on a greater national and international visibility through successful land rights marches with the participation of thousands of people.
A man of dialogue
Mr. Rajagopal's nonviolent social action has also led him to be a man of dialogue with institutions, holding official positions such as Enquiry Commissioner of the Supreme Court on Bonded Labour, and a member of the National Council for Land Reform.
According to the Prize Committe, “The inter-religious essence of Mr. Rajagopal’s activism is in bringing together the poor, united in nonviolent protest for their rights, without distinction of religion”.
In their comments, other members of the Niwano Peace Prize Committee, that presently consists of nine religious leaders from various parts of the world, note that his activism for peace and justice based on spiritual practice and his focus on young people who are the leaders of the future, can change the present violent nature of today’s world, marked by multiple crises and conflicts.
Mr. Rajagopal P.V. receives the Prize during the presentation ceremony in Tokyo, Japan, on Thursday, May 11, 2023. In addition to an award certificate, he will receive a medal and twenty million Yen.
The Niwano Peace Foundation
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 and serves the cause of peace in such fields 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.