Sunday, November 5, 2006

Nobel isn’t noble!

Absurdities and other unexplained mysteries of the Nobel

“That’s how I express and explain a prized legacy of academic excellence!” – I thought sitting at the lobby in Chicago University’s Graduate School of Business (where Prof. A.Sandeep and I went in 2004 to explore opportunities for the Indian Institute of Planning and Management’s Global Outreach Programme), and looking at the pictures of Milton Friedman, F. A. Hayek, George J. Stigler, Paul Samuelson and other Nobel laureates, who were directly or indirectly involved with the University. But then, on second thoughts, it struck me as a blow that there was not a single picture of a woman or a ‘coloured’ man. Is it that the Nobel Foundation had been uncompromisingly and notoriously biased towards white men and white institutions or is it that whites (men in particular) are blessed with more ‘humanitarian’ intellect than their coloured counterparts (this discovery in itself deserves a Nobel!!).

The fact of the matter is, in the past 105 years of Nobel’s existence, there had been only 766 individuals and 19 institutions to have been ‘blessed’ with the award. Interestingly, out of these 19 institutional awards, (intriguingly, all of which were for peace) only half had gone to Bangladesh (Grameen Bank), another half to Austria (International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna) and Canada (Pugwash conferences on Science and World affairs). The rest all had conspicuously gone to the United States and Europe (eight to Switzerland, two to Belgium, five to the United States and two to the United Kingdom). It is also a fact that out of all the individual Nobel recipients, 721 had been white (including recipients from North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, UK, Israel), 33 from other ethnic origins and only 12 blacks.

In reality, the first black individual to be recognised with a Nobel peace prize was Albert John Lutuli of South Africa; and the award came after six decades of establishment of the Nobel Foundation. In short – It had been ‘A COMPREHENSIVE WHITEWASH!’ Fortunately, women did not have to wait that long, for the award went to Madame Marie Curie in 1903. But then, it is amazingly shocking that out of 766 individuals, only 33 were women, brazenly connoting the gender bias.

The racial preference of the Foundation was revealed when it accepted that it nominated and eventually omitted Mahatma Gandhi’s name on five occasions (1937, 1938, 1939, 1947 and 1948). No doubt Gandhi’s omission was a crime in itself, but the bigger crime was that in 1939, when the Foundation didn’t find anyone else for the Peace Prize, it had the audacity to use the prize money for the ‘Main Fund’ and ‘Special Fund’ and yet not award it to him. Exactly 32 years back, Martin Luther King, while accepting the award remarked – ‘I accept the Nobel Prize for Peace at a ‘moment’ when 22 million Negroes of the United States of America are engaged in a creative battle to end the long night of racial injustice’. Mr. King, unfortunately the ‘moment’ persists even today and that too, on a global scale. Wonder why we still call it Nobel?


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