Kailash Satyarthi of India won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, along with the brave Malala Youzsafzai of Pakistan, for his efforts in the fight against child abuse and for the protection of children’s rights. The Nobel Peace Prize committee put a romantic spin to the prize this year referring it as a bridge between Hindus-Muslims and the struggling Indian-Pakistani relationship. The committee also pronounced this prize as a reward for child education and fight against extremism.
However, in the eyes of many global citizens, Kailash Satyarthi’s child rights activism goes way above and beyond the man-made religious and national boundaries. Born in a central Indian town of Vidisha, Madhya Pradesh, Kailash quit his electrical engineering career to start Bachpan Bachao Andolan, which means Save Childhood Movement, in 1980. As a non-profit organization, Kailash’s group has successfully fought child labor and trafficking all across India. Satyarthi believes in non-violent protests just like his idol Mahatma Gandhi. The Nobel Peace Prize though has eluded his hero Gandhi till date.
Much like Malala’s motto, “One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world,” Satyarthi’s life philosophy as a friend of children was to uplift them as well as learn from them. He fought the old-school idea that children are pitiable souls and hence could be exploited. His primary goal as a child lover was to put them on par with grown ups in all respects.
Bachpan Bachao Andolan rallied against the employment of children in homes and factories across the world, especially throughout the 1990s, by organizing Global March Against Child Labor. This movement freed millions of children across the globe from the clutches of bad masters and grueling machines, placing them back to school where they belonged. In the Kennedy Center interview Satyarthi stated that child labor is a test for all, and that it is a moral imperative to fight child abuse. He affirms that child labor is the modern form of slavery.
In the last 35 years, Bachpan Bachao Andolan has spread across 750 organizations and over 80 thousand committed members, who are making a profound impact in fighting child labor and trafficking. One of the greatest achievements of this group was to inculcate consumer awareness in America and Europe, helping the end users buy only child-labor-free goods. Satyarthi is very involved with the United Nations Global Partnership for Education, previously known as the Education For All Fast Track Initiative. The state of child trafficking law in India is very clumsy: while there is a law against adult trafficking and sexual exploitation, there is no law pertaining to child trafficking. Kailash Satyarthi has been behind politicians and lawmakers to make child trafficking a legal offense.
Till today’s Nobel Prize award, Kailash Satyarthi was a largely unknown figure in India, unlike Malala Youzsafzai who has become a global icon after her brave fight against extremist violence. An odd fact about Satyarthi’s life as a child rights activist is his longtime desire to be recognized by the Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize committee. His desire for a global audience and appreciation for his work is certainly a glaring flaw. The history of the Nobel Peace Prize is marred by power and celebrity, but one good thing about the prize is that it provides a global platform for winners like Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Youzsafzai to make the world a better place. Hopefully, Kailash Satyarthi’s journey to rescue and empower children carries on beyond the Nobel Peace Prize. Like Somerset Maugham says in his novel Of Human Bondage, “You know, there are two good things in life: freedom of thought and freedom of action.”
Opinion by Vikas Sharma Vemuri
3. The Hindu