NO­BEL AND BE­YOND

What hap­pens after you scoop the ul­ti­mate ac­co­lade for fin­ish­ing the great work of your life? For Kailash Sat­yarthi, it’s the be­gin­ning of a new in­nings

India Today - - PROFILE KAILASH SATYARTHI - By Da­mayanti Datta Fol­low the writer on Twitter @Dat­taDa­mayanti

He was Googling for a cheap ticket to Ger­many when the call came. It was the af­ter­noon of October 10, 2014. “Kailashji… No­bel,” his friend sounded in­co­her­ent on the phone. In­trigued, he put the phone down and Googled ‘No­bel’. After a few sec­onds, it started blink­ing: his name.

Two years later, what does win­ning the No­bel mean to him? Clad in a crisp white kurta-py­jama, Kailash Sat­yarthi, 62, sits be­hind a huge desk, blend­ing with the au­tum­nal aus­ter­ity around him: a room with bare white walls, fur­ni­ture in ev­ery shade of brown, and lots of light. Through the huge win­dows, you see the blue sky be­yond and the tops of trees that skirt Friends Colony in New Delhi. You can also see the easy smile across his grey-bearded face: “For me, it’s just a comma, not a full-stop.”

THEREBY HANGS A TALE

For many, a No­bel is of­ten the crown­ing recog­ni­tion of a life­time’s work. For Sat­yarthi, In­dia’s fifth No­bel and sec­ond No­bel peace prize win­ner, it has been, ex­pect­edly, a life-chang­ing event—cat­a­pult­ing the rel­a­tively lit­tle­known child rights ac­tivist, and his or­gan­i­sa­tion, the Bach­pan Bachao An­dolan, to in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion, putting him in great de­mand for lec­tures, talks and sem­i­nars at pres­ti­gious global fora. “Sud­denly, you be­come a VIP, wanted ev­ery­where,” Sat­yarthi says. But it has also been two years of re­lent­less, back-break­ing work, he says, of knock­ing on a mil­lion doors, closed to most—in search of a new dream.

“It has been the big­gest recog­ni­tion for the rights of the most marginalised and de­prived chil­dren,” he says. “Never be­fore has there been a No­bel for this cause. It gave a deeper sense of com­mit­ment to what I do.” And that has led him to launch a new plat­form, Lau­re­ates and Lead­ers, and a new move­ment, ‘100 Mil­lion for 100 Mil­lion’, or call­ing upon 100 mil­lion young peo­ple to learn about their own rights and the lives of chil­dren liv­ing in unimag­in­able sit­u­a­tions. On De­cem­ber 10 and 11, shar­ing the dais at Rash­tra­p­ati Bha­van with Ti­betan spir­i­tual leader Dalai Lama and a host of No­bel lau­re­ates and world lead­ers, Pres­i­dent Pranab Mukher­jee flagged it off with the mes­sage: “This global en­deav­our for mo­bil­is­ing 100 mil­lion youth and chil­dren is the be­gin­ning of a change that was long over­due. It is only ap­pro­pri­ate that the cam­paign be­gins from In­dia, which has the largest pop­u­la­tion of youth in the world.”

WORK IS WOR­SHIP

Sat­yarthi has never fol­lowed for­mu­laic com­pul­sions: of ca­reer, liveli­hood, the next big project or op­por­tu­nity. An elec­tri­cal engineer by train­ing, he stum­bled into a ter­ri­tory—the world of child labour—that ex­cited him enough for it to be­come his call­ing: be it the mag­a­zine he started, Sang­harsh Jaari Ra­hega (The Strug­gle will Con­tinue), in the 1970s to doc­u­ment the lives of vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple, or the non­profit he founded, Bach­pan Bachao An­dolan (Save Child­hood Move­ment) in 1980 or his first un­suc­cess­ful raid on a brick-mak­ing plant to res­cue chil­dren work­ing as bonded labour in 1990. There has also been his cam­paign with the United Na­tions since 2000, to in­clude free­dom from child labour as a sus­tain­able devel­op­ment goal in the Mil­len­nial Char­ter. “I have been saying for the past 15 years that a child needs to be free to en­joy the fruits of devel­op­ment,” he says.

The No­bel sud­denly made his dream real. “I got into in­tense ac­tiv­ity from October 2014,” he re­calls. “I went around the world, us­ing the power of the No­bel, and all doors opened.” He pre­sented his case to the UN, the World Bank, the In­ter­na­tional Labour Or­gan­i­sa­tion, met pres­i­dents and prime min­is­ters, from Barack Obama to Fran­cois Hol­lande. “It took

me a year,” he says. “In Septem­ber 2015, for the first time there were two In­di­ans ad­dress­ing the au­di­ence at the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly. Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi and me.” To­day, the UN has in­cor­po­rated all his con­cerns—erad­i­ca­tion of child labour, slav­ery, traf­fick­ing and forced labour, pro­tec­tion from vi­o­lence, in­clu­sive, eq­ui­table and qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion for all chil­dren—as a sus­tain­able devel­op­ment mil­len­nial goal.

LEAGUE OF LAU­RE­ATES

Then came act two. A dif­fer­ent league, a dif­fer­ent com­mit­ment, a dif­fer­ent step­ping stone. Ev­ery time he was in­vited to var­i­ous plat­forms with other No­bel lau­re­ates from var­i­ous fields, it al­lowed him to push his agenda. “Many of these sci­en­tists live in a dif­fer­ent world of knowl­edge, emerg­ing from their labs after 8-10 years, so to say. And they were hardly aware of the var­i­ous ways the world ex­ploits chil­dren as slave labour, the plight of refugee chil­dren, vic­tims of vi­o­lence, con­flicts and nat­u­ral dis­as­ter,” he ex­plains. “I tried to connect with them.” As he nar­rated his sto­ries, he found them in tears, with many ask­ing, ‘Mr Sat­yarthi, how can we help?’.

On one such poignant evening in Stock­holm, Sweden, Sat­yarthi re­mem­bers pick­ing up a can­dle ly­ing in a cor­ner, ask­ing his hosts for a match­stick and light­ing it. “I re­cited the an­cient Vedic shloka, Asato ma sadga­maya. From ig­no­rance, lead me to truth… from the dark­ness of suf­fer­ing, lead us to the light of com­pas­sion.” It was a ‘pledge’ of some sort by the lau­re­ates, to build a dy­namic plat­form of global lead­er­ship that would fight for the free­dom of chil­dren.

THE TIME IS NOW

There is a les­son in ev­ery­thing. And the cru­cial les­son Sat­yarthi learnt in his nearly four decades of work with chil­dren is that “to­day they face things ear­lier gen­er­a­tions never faced be­fore”, be it traf­fick­ing or ter­ror. “As the world takes gi­ant leaps, in wealth or tech­nol­ogy, chil­dren suf­fer the most in times of tran­si­tion,” he points out. “I be­lieve that is be­cause there is a se­ri­ous moral deficit all around us, from busi­ness to gov­ern­ments to NGOs to tem­ples and mosques.” Who will speak for the chil­dren, he asks?

What else? Even 20 years ago, he points out, wel­fare was the state’s sin­gu­lar re­spon­si­bil­ity. Cor­po­rates func­tioned mostly with profit in mind. And NGOs were pri­mar­ily in char­ity. But with chang­ing times, three strong stake­hold­ers have emerged—the state, cor­po­rates and civil so­ci­ety—all ques­tion­ing struc­tural is­sues, all try­ing to find solutions. “They must all come to­gether, build mu­tual trust and work to­wards right­ing the glar­ing wrongs suf­fered by the most vul­ner­a­ble in so­ci­ety—chil­dren.”

An unas­sum­ing man pur­su­ing au­da­cious dreams? But he has faced all the highs and lows of a charmed life: threats, as­saults, a bro­ken spine and limbs and has lost friends and col­leagues in the course of his work. “But I’ve also met, hugged, shared meals and sto­ries with mil­lions of chil­dren across 140 coun­tries. How many can say that?” True. Be­lieve in your dreams. That’s Sat­yarthi, al­ways.

AT THE MUKTI SHEL­TER ASHRAM IN BURARI, DELHI

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