Malala Yousafzai going to school. She shares this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. [Photo: Courtesy Ras H. Siddiqui] Kailash Satyarthi talks to media at his office in New Delhi after winning the Nobel Peace Prize. (Photo: Kamal Singh | PTI)
India stood tall in the world arena when Kailash Satyarthi was announced as the winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize that is to be shared with 17-year-old Pakistani student and education activist, Malala Yousafzai, writes Priyanka Bhardwaj.
Both Kailash Satyarthi from India and Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan were honored for their separate yet relentless efforts to fight for the rights of children and young people.
Kailash Satyarthi, who has credited the people of India and Nepal for this special honor bestowed on him, started his journey in the field of social activism from as young as he can remember.
Born on January 11, 1954 at Vidisha, an ancient town in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, Satyarthi’s original name was Kailash Sharma.
Despite losing his father a young age Satyarthi grew to be an extra ordinarily sensitive human being, keenly observing the experiences of poor people from close quarters that shaped his life and work.
Speaking of him, people at Vidisha ruminate how he once helped found a book bank for poor children and would even help bathe his other childhood friends when they would visit his home.
Though his family could afford a government education for him, Satyarthi went on to earn an engineering degree from Samrat Ashok Technological Institute, Vidisha, and a post-graduate degree in high-voltage engineering which fetched him work as a lecturer in a college in Bhopal.
An ordinary life of making ends meet and worrying just about himself and his immediate family were not to be his calling.
His thoughts and anger against social ills would find an outlet in his debates in school and in college itself he had earned a reputation of a true follower of Mahatma Gandhi by adhering to his philosophy of “simple living, high thinking.”By 1980, the impulse to bring in a change on his own steam took a predominant form and flung him into an arena of social activism that involved fighting for the rights of children. Yet it was 1984 that proved to be the landmark year as the Bhopal Gas Tragedy shook his consciousness.
The gas leak incident had no parallel in world’s industrial history, and millions had died and generations to come would be terribly affected.
A young Satyarthi gave up his engineering career and changed his name from Kailash Sharma to Kailash Satyarthi — to shed every vestige of caste nomenclature.
Thus began a new chapter in his life and he joined Bonded Labour Liberation Front as the General Secretary.
Soon Satyarthi launched the “Bachpan Bachao Andolan” (Save the Childhood Mission) and made the national capital, New Delhi his base.
The cornerstone of his work and message to others would be, “If not now then when? If not you, then who?”
Tenacity, indomitable leadership and passion for change became the hallmarks of his leadership in leading the mission in rescuing and rehabilitating more than 84,000 children from slavery and clutches of child traffickers.
A country where child labor (counted to an approximate 50 million as per multiple reports) makes for a quarter of the unskilled work force in organized and unorganized sectors, it has not been an easy task for Satyarthi to enable enactment and adoption of national and international legislations, treaties and conventions as well as the constitutional amendment on child labor and education.
Besides organizing raids on factories and warehouses to rescue children, sometimes with help from other non-government organizations and media, Satyarthi focused on endeavors to impart vocational training to these children and collaborate with the media and other groups to build national and international consumer resistance.
In the late 1980s and 1990s his campaigns in Europe and the United States configured people’s comprehension of the use of child labor in manufacture of carpets in India.
Influenced from these campaigns global corporations took onto themselves the onus of adopting social responsibility in relation to consumption of products of this trade.
Satyarthi’s mission believes that child labor and child work need to be distinctly viewed as child labor, that is altogether taking away a child from education to working activities and child work means employing a child along with his parents but after his school hours so that poverty stricken families are able to maintain subsistence level of income.
Also underlining the mission’s crusade are Satyarthi’s beliefs that poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, population growth, and other social problems are products of child labor.
A survey of Satyarthi’s work profile shows his deep involvement with the Global March Against Child Labour and its international advocacy body, the International Centre on Child Labour and Education that are worldwide coalitions of NGOs, teachers and trades unionists, Global Campaign for Education, ActionAid, Oxfam and Education International.
Among his other successful ventures are the GoodWeave International (previously called the Rugmark) that is the first voluntary labeling, monitoring and certification system of rugs made sans use of child labor in South Asia.
As a designated member of a UNESCO body and as board member of the Fast Track Initiative (now known as the Global Partnership for Education), Center for Victims of Torture (USA), the International Labor Rights Fund (USA), and the International Cocoa Foundation he helps examine issues that are related to human rights.
Presently he is engaged in bringing child labor and slavery into the post-2015 development agenda for the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals.
Not alone in his fight, Satyarthi is helped by his wife, two children, colleagues and millions of children whom he helped rescue.
When Thorbjorn Jagland, the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s Chairman announced the peace prize he said, “The Nobel Committee regards it as an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism. Children must go to school and not be financially exploited. It is a prerequisite for peaceful global development that the rights of children and young people be respected. In conflict-ridden areas in particular, the violation of children leads to the continuation of violence from generation to generation. Showing great personal courage, Kailash Satyarthi, maintaining Gandhi’s tradition, has headed various forms of protests and demonstrations, all peaceful, focusing on the grave exploitation of children for financial gain. He has also contributed to the development of important international conventions on children’s rights.”
Indeed working towards securing a future of children goes into securing world peace as they are more likely not to become radical fundamentalists.
On receiving the honor, Satyarthi added that that he would have felt more honored if the prize had been first conferred to Mahatma Gandhi who inspired him in this direction of work.
In his congratulatory message to Satyarthi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote, “India is proud of his momentous achievement. Shri Kailash Satyarthi has devoted his life to a cause that is extremely relevant to entire humankind. I salute his determined efforts.”
The official presentation ceremony of the Nobel Peace Prize amounting to about $1.1 million will held at Oslo, Norway, on Dec. 10.