NEW DELHI–Prominent activist Sandeep Pandey has announced to return the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award as well as academic degrees he earned in the United States, in protest against the US. support for the Israeli offensive against Palestinian citizens in Gaza.
In 2002, Pandey was honoured by the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation for Emergent Leadership for his commitment to education for underprivileged children through his organization, Asha for Education. The award recognized Pandey as a person following Gandhi’s path, helping to shape the socio-economic and political future of the country as well as empowering marginalized communities through grassroots education initiatives.
However, Pandey who is presently general secretary of the Socialist Party (India), has announced to return the award due to its funding links to American Foundations like the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations.
In a statement, Pandey explained that the current dire situation in Gaza, with killing of 22,000 Palestinians and the US arms sales to Israel, made it unbearable for him to retain an award funded by 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 have been, and still continuing to sell arms to Israel, it has become unbearable for me to keep the award,” he said.
Pandey had faced a minor controversy when he initially accepted the Magsaysay Award due to its American funding. He said, “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.”
Despite returning the cash component of the award at that time, Pandey kept the physical award, explaining in a letter to the Magsaysay Foundation that he would be willing to return it if his actions harmed the foundation’s reputation.
Now, along with the Magsaysay Award, he is also returning his Master’s degrees in Manufacturing and Computer Engineering from Syracuse University and his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from UC Berkeley. His disillusionment with U.S. academic institutions’ involvement in military projects dates back to protests against the Gulf War in the 1990s.
Pandey said, “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.”
Pandey admitted that he was unaware that certain departments at these universities were involved in the US defense projects.
His statement further says, “a Professor Pravin Varaiya of Electrical Engineering, whose research area, Control Systems, was same as mine, and who was a participant in the anti-war 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.”
Referring to the present ongoing Israeli aggressions against the people in Gaza, Pandey explained, “I have to take the hard decision because I think the U.S. is singularly responsible in encouraging Israel to continue its aggression against Palestinians contrary to popular world opinion.”
Pandey clarified that he does not oppose the American people or the country itself. However, he is speaking out against the US government’s foreign policy double standards in overlooking Israeli military action while imposing sanctions on other nations for human rights violations.
The activist emphasized the need for the US to play a mediating role in the Israel-Palestine conflict, calling attention to what he perceives as the country’s singular responsibility in encouraging Israel to continue its aggression.
While highlighting the contrasting stance of the US on Afghanistan, where control was handed over to the Taliban, Pandey pointed out, ‘The US parrots the Israeli position about Hamas being a terrorist organization, ignoring the fact that Hamas has won an election in Palestine, unlike the Taliban.’
He called for the creation of an independent Palestinian state and for the US to play a mediating role, instead of just backing Israel. This move is seen as a bold statement by Pandey to protest perceived US hypocrisy regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict and the people of Gaza.