Saluting Satyarthi: the fight against slavery has only just begun, though

Nobel should put modern slavery and children’s rights on top of the agenda

ashishm

Ashish Mehta | October 11, 2014




The first reaction to the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize was: who is Kailash Satyarthi? Few knew about him even in New Delhi, where he lives. The other winner, Malala Yousafzai, is well known around the world. She is a well known face, and the international media have profiled her in great detail.

But Satyarthi? No, not even the local media has written about him much.

Thus, in the immediate aftermath of the announcement, we debated several candidates who we thought were better. Ela Bhatt of SEWA has been a long-time favourite, from the time before Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh won it for somewhat similar work. If, as the Nobel committee representative has admitted, the idea was to make up to an extent for not honouring Gandhi by saluting his legacy, then several Gandhians ranging from Narayan Desai to Gene Sharp would have been more suitable candidates.

What has saving children from bonded labour got to do with Gandhi?

No wonder, many of us questioned the significance of the award. Curiously, a day earlier, the American and British media were similarly flummoxed by the pick for the literature award, since they had not heard of Patrick Modiano. One commentator went on to say that the choice was dictated purely by one factor: not to give the award to the perennially waiting Philip Roth.

On second thoughts, however, Satyarthi’s relative anonymity should not be a disqualifier for any honour. Indeed, it should instead be seen as an exception to the trend of publicity-seeking do-gooders. And, a comment on the laziness of the media in general that ignored his work beyond the day-to-day reports on police raids his organisation Bachpan Bachao Andolan helped conduct on sweatshops employing children.

More importantly, the honour brings to limelight the man as much as his work – ‘saving childhood’. As the Nobel committee put it, the prize to both Satyarthi and Yousafzai was for their “struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education”.
“Children must go to school and not be financially exploited. In the poor countries of the world, 60% of the present population is under 25 years of age. 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,” notes the citation.

Satyarthi’s struggle has succeeded in rescuing 83,525 children, even as the Nobel committee estimates there are still 168 million child labourers around the world. In his first reactions, Satyarthi said the prize “will help in giving bigger visibility to the cause of children who are most neglected and most deprived. Everyone must acknowledge and see that child slavery still exists in the world in its ugliest face and form. And this is crime against humanity, this is intolerable, this is unacceptable. And this must go.”

This cause truly needs further visibility. In popular imagination, slavery is nearly extinct around the world, but going by its definition, it continues, and India is its hotbed. According to a 2013 report of Walk Free Foundation that has not found much publicity, there are 29.8 million victims of modern slavery around the world. In absolute numbers, the country with the highest number of ‘modern slaves’ happens to be India, where “between 13,300,000 and 14,700,000 people [are] enslaved” – particularly through debt bondage and bonded labour. (China and Pakistan occupy the next two ranks in the global slavery index.)

A substantial number of these modern slaves in India are, of course, children.

And they do not have a voice: they cannot press for their rights, they cannot carry out demonstrations. Mostly, they are forced to work in dingy factories, wasting away their childhood in making firecrackers and doing zari work, among others. The Nobel Prize salutes Satyarthi’s work for silently helping them find their voice.

Comments

 

Other News

48 MLAs, MPs have declared cases of crime against women

Out of 1580 MPs and MLAs with criminal cases, 48 (three MPs and 45 MLAs) have declared cases related to crime against women. The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and

A rare peek into the mind of Modi

It’s always lonely at the top. Prime minister Narendra Modi’s marathon townhall event at the Central Hall Westminster, titled ‘Bharat ki Baat, Sab ke Saath’, was nothing but his way of shedding that loneliness, communicating and mingling with people and showing his vulnerable side.

"We will be involving community volunteers to effectively police the park"

The work on Sunder Nursery, a lush green refuge from urban chaos in central Delhi, started in 2007, when the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) undertook a conservation and renewal proje

Namami Gange: Of promises and achievements

Twenty-six-year-old Surender is a ferryman in Varanasi. Surender and his family own three boats and their livelihood is dependent on taking tourists on a joyride on the Ganga. Recalling the time when he used to ride a boat with his grandfather, Surender says, “At that time Ganga water was so

Trouble on the metro line

The storm is yet to die out over the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited`s (MMRC) taking over 30 hectares of the famed Aarey colony, a green belt of mumbai, when another application has come in from MMRC demanding another 12,000 sq metres of land. The colony in Goregaon, inaugurated in 195

"Govt must allow open spaces which can serve as lungs for the city"

For years we had a tradition in Mumbai, particularly for all the trunk roads, to be avenues (boulevards). Though we continue to have trees in some parts of Mumbai, the fact is that we appear to have given up on this. Having trees and plants on streets and roads not only provides shade but also absorbs poll

Current Issue

Current Issue

Video

CM Nitish’s convoy attacked in Buxar

Opinion

Facebook    Twitter    Google Plus    Linkedin    Subscribe Newsletter

Twitter