Lucknow- Social activist Sandeep Pandey has decided to return the prestigious Magsaysay Award he received in 2002. In an email sent to the media, the Lucknow-based social activist mentioned that the Magsaysay Award is funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, and the category in which he won the award, i.e., Emergent Leadership, was funded by the Ford Foundation, both of which are American Foundations. Noting "the role of the US in blatantly supporting Israel in the current offensive against Palestinian citizens," which has killed more than 21,500 citizens and the continued selling of arms by the US to Israel, Pandey decided to return the award. "It has become unbearable for me to keep the award. I, therefore, am deciding to finally return the award too.”
Pandey also declared returning the degrees that he obtained from the United States of America - Dual M.S. degrees in Manufacturing and Computer Engineering from Syracuse University in New York and a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering degree from the University of California at Berkeley.
The BHU alumni clarified that he was not against the ordinary people of the US and, in fact, lauded the superpower for the high standards of human rights within their own country. “I think the US is one country which respects human rights the most and offers the best freedom of expression, but sadly it is true only within the country. Outside the US, it seems to have little regard for human rights, especially of third-world countries,” Sandip said in the statement.
In 2002, he had returned the cash portion of the Magsaysay award on being challenged by a Philippines newspaper to do so, citing his earlier remark, "the US is the biggest terrorist state in the world.”
He co-founded the Asha for Education, a voluntary organization dedicated to bringing about socio-economic change in India through education. Asha for Education supports various education projects in India, focusing on underprivileged children and communities. He has worked extensively at the ground level and visited Chhattisgarh and Odisha to protest against "corporate loot" and human rights violations.
In 2015, he went on a hunger strike demanding that the Lucknow-based City Montessori School admits 31 children under the 25% reservation provision for underprivileged children under the (Free and Compulsory) Right to Education Act, 2009. He broke the fast on the assurance of the then DM of Lucknow, who promised to get the children admitted, and 13 students got admitted to the CMS Indiranagar branch.
In 2016, he went on another hunger strike demanding the implementation of Justice Sudhir Agarwal Verdict of Allahabad High Court, which said that the children of government servants should be mandatorily admitted to government schools. The fast was ended after the intervention of Mulayam Singh Yadav.
In addition to his activism, Pandey is an academician and has been associated with the education sector. He has been a visiting faculty member at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Kanpur. His persistent activism had also cost him his position as a visiting faculty in the Chemical Engineering Department of IIT BHU. The allegation against him was that he was a Naxalite and had shown the banned documentary on Nirbhaya.
Pandey clarified that “the banned documentary on Nirbhaya made by BBC was to be screened in my Development Studies class during the even semester of the academic year 2014-15, but the decision was withdrawn after the intervention of the Chief Proctor of BHU and S.O. of Lanka Police Station just before the class.” Later in 2016, the Allahabad High Court quashed the decision, citing the violation of the principle of natural justice.
Pandey rejects the charge of being a Naxalite and says, “The ideology which I am closest to is 'Gandhian'.”
The eminent activist-academician has also provided his services at prestigious colleges like IIM Bangalore, IIM Bangalore, IIT, Gandhinagar, Varanasi, NALSAR, University of Law. He has served as an adviser to the government's Central Advisory Board for Education (CABE).
The social activist is also serving as the general secretary of the Socialist Party of India. Born in an upper-caste Brahmin family, Pandey has been a big proponent of the caste-based reservation system. Speaking to the Mooknayak, Pandey said, “Reservation is a constitutional provision and it is a reality that the representation of the marginalized section is poor; hence, they should get a chance, and for proper representation, the caste census is indispensable.” Pandey also supports the breach of the 50% limit imposed by the Supreme Court on horizontal reservations.