Magsaysay for ‘3 idiots’ muse

Two Indians are among six winners picked for the award

Sonam Wangchuk, a 51-year-old educational reformer from Ladakh, widely regarded as the inspiration for Aamir Khan’s character, Phunsuk Wangdu in the film ‘3 Idiots’, is one of two Indians named for the 2018 Ramon Magsaysay Awards.

The other is Bharat Vatwani, a psychiatrist who works for mentally ill street people in Mumbai. Wangchuk and Vatwani are among six winners of the award, which “celebrates greatness of spirit and transformative leadership in Asia.” The others are Youk Chhang from Cambodia, Maria de Lourdes Martins Cruz from East Timor, Howard Dee from the Philippines and Vo Thi Hoang Yen from Vietnam.

Wangchuk was a 19-year-old engineering student at the National Institute of Technology in Srinagar, when he took up tutoring. He helped unprepared students pass the national college matriculation exams.

Ladakh movement

In 1988, after earning his engineering degree, Wangchuk founded the Students’ Education and Cultural Movement of Ladakh to coach Ladakhi students, 95% of whom used to fail the government exams. In 1994, with him in the lead, Operation New Hope was launched to consolidate the programme. Vatwani was recognised for “his tremendous courage and healing compassion” in embracing mentally-afflicted destitute people.

(With inputs from


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