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The ‘Not-So-Nobel Prize’: How The Biases And Hypocrisy Have Tarnished The Award

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By Adrija Shukla:

Human beings are a bundle of surreal feelings, emotions and aspirations. This anomalous race is so formidable that it can conquer mountains and dig up the depths of oceans. All it needs is the elixir of motivation which gives it the strength to set new standards of perfection. Awards & Prizes seem to be the greatest motivation for human beings. When something done by burning candles at both ends gets recognised internationally, it turns out to be a huge source of inducement. Nobel prizes are known to be world’s most prestigious awards that acknowledge the greatest achievements of people in various fields.

nobel peace prize controversy

The Nobel awards came into existence as the legacy of the Swedish Scientist Alfred Nobel, who declared peace awards as one of the 6 award categories in his will. Nobel was an extraordinary scientist, who invented Dynamite. It made him really wealthy initially, but towards the end of his life, he probably had a restless conscious searching for an answer. This made him announce Nobel Prizes in his will as a repentance of the repercussions of his inventions.

Peace prizes are considered to be one of the most devout awards in this age of social unrest and disharmony. While Alfred Nobel wrote in his will that peace prize will be given to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”, the definition seems to have lost sheen with the passage of time.

This year, India’s Mr. Kailash Satyarthi and Pakistan’s Malala Yusufzai jointly won the year’s greatest honour for their contributions to the cause of humanity. The reason the Norwegian Nobel Committee gave this joint award is the “Fraternity between Nations” criterion of Alfred Nobel’s will. Indeed, there is no question mark on how deserving both the winners were for this prize. But these awards have a really long (114 year) history, which has witnessed some of the best acknowledgements for the contributions in bringing about peace in the world. Although, there is another side of this story too, which has noticed all sorts of bizarre selections for the peace awards that really make one ponder upon the selection criterion of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

One of the most surprising choices ever made for the peace prize was Henry Kissinger in the year 1973. He and Vietnamese leader Le Duc Tho were awarded the peace prize for the ‘Paris Peace Accords and bringing ceasefire in Vietnam war with withdrawal of American force.’ Now, Kissinger has a very famous quote “The illegal we can do right now, the unconstitutional will take a little longer.” He was one of the most influential and most ruthless Secretary of State of America. During his term, he was involved in massive bombings in various countries. Peace award to him raised many questions on this decision. Even two members of the Nobel Committee resigned in protest against this decision. But his ‘peaceful efforts’ were not affected by this and the Award went to him.

Another peculiar selection was made in the year 1994 when Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres & Yitzhak Rabin were awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts for making peace between Israel & Palestine. Arafat’s name left many people flabbergasted because after leading a massive violent struggle which led to the killings of thousands of people, he was awarded the peace prize.

In the year 2009, Peace prize was presented to Barak Obama ‘for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between people’. The announcement of his name was surprising even for Obama himself who was given this prize just after a short period of time when he took over the office. This heated up the arguments that this choice was rather politically motivated from Norway’s point of view than based on merits.

In 2012, European Union was chosen for the peace prize for contributing towards peace and reconciliation of democracy in Europe. This was another outlandish choice by the Committee, which really did not mean to “encourage” efforts of European Union. A larger part of the Union was going through a major social & economic unrest when the prize was announced. The political prescience was apparent.

Since its inception in the year 1901, there have been a total of 125 Nobel Peace awardees. Out of these, 103 are individual and 22 are organisations. Country-wise data says that US has won the most number of peace prizes with 29 winners. UK takes the second spot with 14 winners and Switzerland and France take third and fourth positions with 12 & 8 winners respectively.

The concerns raised on the selection criterion are braced by the facts that there are some people who were internationally recognised for their efforts for bringing peace and integration in the world, but were never awarded with the peace prize. Mahatma Gandhi, who was nominated 5 times as per the claims of the Committee, never won the award as he was not a deserving candidate ever. Personalities like Fazle Hasan Abed, Elanor Roosevelt, and Vaclav Havel were a few people who were very much deserving as per the criteria of peace prize but were not deserving as per the decisions of Norwegian Nobel Committee.

According to a report published in Aftenposten, Norway’s largest newspaper in criticism of Norwegian Nobel Committee, the majority of the members are recruited from political and professional backgrounds rather than the people who are in the field of peace or working for peace, or peace researchers. There is too little openness about the selection criterion of the winners of Peace Prize. Indeed, there have been many instances where these awards were used as an instrument to benefit Norway’s foreign policies and economic interests.

Such speculations on the world’s most estimable awards raise serious questions on the fairness of these awards. They have set new definitions of peace that is very different from the conventional interpretation of the word. Now, when awards are given keeping in mind the interests of a country, then how far they can claim to acknowledge the international efforts of bringing about peace in the world? It would have been fair if the awardees were selected in accordance with Alfred Nobel’s intent and will.

To know more about what I think of this story, follow me on Twitter at @AdrijaShukla

You must be to comment.
  1. Babar

    The Nobel Prize is hogwash. Indians like Narayan Krishnan and Pakistanis like Abdul Sattar Edhi are real heroes, who go unnoticed. However, the Nobel Prize is handed to terrorists like Barrack Obama and U.S. mouthpieces like Malala, who reiterates the propaganda by an imperialistic state like the U.S., led by a bunch of terrorists.

  2. Gaurav

    excellent article, nobel prize is indeed a political tool, it has nothing to do with peace. infact the people behind are least bothered by violence and do not understand the basics of violence and peace.

  3. Amreeta Das

    Well articulated. I was quite at unease with my serious skepticism when I heard that Malala won the prize. Notwithstanding all her daunting and emulative tasks, what the international community is doing is idolizing that young girl and exhausting her with so many awards and invitations for “noble events” that her ultimate purpose, that is campaigning for female education in the Taliban wrecked Pakistan, is fizzling out even before taking concrete shape. It is good to see that many think in the same line.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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