Kailash Satyarthi has been a strident voice for child rights in India and an influential activist against child labour. For his work, the 63-year-old founder of Bachpan Bachao Andolan was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, which he shared with Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan. But not many people were aware of his work and achievements till he won the Nobel. For over three decades, he has been working tirelessly to protect children from all kinds of exploitation and advocating their freedom and education. His work has freed over 83,000 children from around 144 countries.Also ,being profoundly affected by society’s flawed caste system, he chose to drop his surname Sharma and instead adopted "Satyarthi", which means "seeker of truth". More importantly, because of his global march movement against child labour, the International Labour Organisation has ratified a convention against child labour. The Nobel Laureate, in an exclusive interview with Nivedita R, talks about the high and low points in his life, his driving force and his views on joining politics, among other pertinent issues. Excerpts:
Q: What was your trigger to start fighting for children’s rights and education in India? What made you choose this issue?
A: Well, there were two things, out of which the first incident ignited a spark in me and the second one showed me a path to work towards this pertinent issue. When I was five-and-a-half years old, I saw a cobbler boy outside my school working. I questioned my
teacher, friends, and fellow students as to why he was working when we were studying; they said he is poor so he has to work. I was really upset to learn this. Therefore, one day I met the boy’s father and asked why his son wasn’t attending school. He said he never thought about this as they were into this occupation generation after generation. He said, ‘We people are born to work.’ That statement really disturbed me as I began to ponder why some people are born to work at the cost of their freedom and education. The second incident was when a desperate father knocked at my door seeking help to rescue his daughter, who was about to be sold to a brothel. I was working as a journalist at that time. He was a bonded labourer working in a brick kiln, where his daughter was born and brought up. I didn’t succeed to get the
girl out from there at one go as I was beaten up and also thrown out. But eventually I approached the court with the help of some of my friends and the court ordered freedom of that girl along with 36 other children, men and women.
Q: What is the driving force in your life? What keeps you motivated all the time to persistently work for this noble cause?
A: People who take interest in the issues of children are my driving force. Earlier people were not willing to pay much heed to this subject but gradually they have started listening, believing and also joined their hands in solidarity to work against child labour. This keeps me motivated.
Q:What have been the high and low points of your life?
A: Well, there are many incidents where my people were attacked, my colleagues were beaten up and also one of my colleagues was beaten to death. Besides, one was shot dead. Holding the dead bodies of my colleagues was intensely disturbing and painful. Although I was also beaten up, my left leg was broken, there were many injuries, including a head injury and my ribs were broken, I never considered that as a low point of my life because whenever they attacked me, my house, my family, and burnt my office, I felt even stronger. I felt that I am on the right path and people who are attacking me and trying to kill me are threatened. They are afraid of my existence. That indeed was a high point in my life, which gave me strength and courage to fight against such evildoers indefatigably.
Q: Why don’t you join politics? Do you have any plans to get into politics?
A: No, it’s too late now (laughs). Actually what I do is also politics. Some people have a very limited tenure in politics, which only lasts for five years, that is only till the next election. But I am doing politics for the next generation. The work that I do saves the future generation as a whole and not just merely for five years.
Q: What do you think the government should do to curb child trafficking and end child labour completely in India?
A: Not only the government, it is also a collective moral responsibility of all of us, including the State, corporate and civil society to come forward for the underprivileged children’s cause. The whole idea is that each one of us should play an important role in safeguarding the interests of children and it means that we have to be more responsible and ensure that no child labourer or trafficked child is involved in the supply chain and production activities anywhere. More money should be spent on their education.
Q:What do you have to say about the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016?
A: There are certain flaws in the Act and we kept on working on this. Finally, the government has agreed to address those concerns. The two major flaws in the Act are being addressed. One is the family child labour definition, which is quite ambiguous and the second is the list of hazardous occupations. Both these concerns will now be addressed by the government.
Q: Do you ever get angry in personal life?
A: I love anger and I’m an angry person (laughs). Anger is a power, it is energy and energy can never be destroyed. I channelise this energy to work for a better cause against all the injustices and inequalities of this world. Anger is normally diverted for hatred, violence and revenge, etc. But why can’t we keep this anger inside us and use it positively?