This year the Nobel Peace prize has been awarded to internationally known Pakistani Malala Youzsafzai and to unknown Indian Kailash Satyarthi, both of whom have been child rights activists. According to the Norwegian Nobel Institute, Kailash Satyarthi had been in the running for the coveted peace prize for over half a decade now.
Satyarthi studied engineering and gave up his career as an electrical engineer to start the ‘Save Childhood Movement’. His NGO has been leading the movement to eliminate child trafficking and child labour in India. In an interview to a leading English daily in India about four months ago, he said, “My philosophy is that I am a friend of the children. I don’t think anyone should see them as pitiable subjects or charity. That is old people’s rhetoric. People often relate childish behaviour to stupidity or foolishness. This mindset needs to change. I want to level the playing field where I can learn from the children. Something I can learn from children is transparency. They are innocent, straightforward, and have no biases. I relate children to simplicity and I think that my friendship with children has a much deeper meaning than others.”
The Nobel Prize Committee announced that India’s Satyarthi and Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai were awarded for “showing great personal courage and in their struggle against the suppression of children and for the right of all children to education”. 17-year-old Yousafzai is the youngest winner of the coveted prize.
Many in the NGO circle know Satyarthi but beyond that he is an unknown Indian. Kingshuk Nag, A Delhi-based senior journalist writes
“I have a confession to make. I had not heard of Kailash Satyarthi till the news broke about him being awarded the Nobel peace prize for 2014. I checked with many friends; none of them had any clue about who he was. All this is not a reflection on the Nobel committee but a commentary on people like us (PLU) who think that they are aware citizens but are ignorance personified. And the blame for this ignorance is on the media of the country, who are responsible directly and indirectly for holding a mirror on to happenings in the country. Of course, I am part of the media and therefore this is a reflection on my work too.”
Despite spending a lifetime fighting against the practice of child labour, Kailash Satyarthi was ignored by the media. Is it because child labour, female trafficking, hunger or poverty is not news worthy? But then again, why blame the media alone when even the governments have not recognized Satyarthi’s noble campaign for the eradication of child labour and trafficking all these years? Even in NGO circles in India the news has come as a surprise, albeit a pleasant one for many.
Sudhanshu Joshi, a US based social scientist writes that Kailash Satyarthi was systematically ignored by successive Indian governments. He was never considered for national awards so this serves as a wakeup call for those who continue to ignore his campaign. He took up issues of children’s Labour at the international level and drew the attention of OECD countries to enhance their support for global impact on education, which subsequently brought Brazil and China on board to create the Global Taskforce on child labour and education.
It is interesting to note that a section of people associated with the development sector in India, have a different take on Satyarthi’s contributions. Basically they say he does not deserve the Nobel peace prize. How is it that many foreign, i.e. Non-Indian institutions have awarded him for his contributions and not a single Indian organisation nor the Indian government has recognised his contributions on child rights? Could this be because the societies in the third world countries do not recognise the issue of child labour and accept all that is happening in their midst as normal? When the state does not take cognisance of an issue, the media also generally does not see it as news worthy.
It is high time the ‘invisible’ persons who work towards the empowerment of communities are recognized by their countries much before the Nobel Institute sees their global contributions.
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