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In Conversation With Kailash Satyarthi

Ranjani Saigal

(This article is sponsored by Tanna Insurance)

“Let us be the generation that ends slavery” said Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi who touched the soul of New Englanders as he addressed at MIT. His talk brought out his genuine love for children and his courage and conviction to take on a cause that is challenging to say the least. 

When I heard about the Nobel Prize being awarded to Kailash Satyarthi,  my reaction like many other Indians was  - Satyarthi? Who is that?” Why did the committee pick an unknown for this great prize? Within a few minutes of  conversation with Kailash ji and one immediately realizes why the Nobel committee picked him.  He shines forth as a man with courage and conviction who has genuine love for humanity.  I could not believe that I had the good fortune of being in his company and serving him coffee.

Satyarthi has been a tireless advocate of children’s rights for over three decades. He and the grassroots movement founded by him, Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement), have liberated more than 84,000 children from exploitation and developed a successful model for their education and rehabilitation. Satyarthi has been the architect of the single largest civil society network for the most exploited children, the Global March Against Child Labor, whose mobilization of unions, civil society and most importantly, children, led to the adoption of ILO Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labor in 1999.  He is also the founding president of the Global Campaign for Education, an exemplar civil society movement working to end the global education crisis and GoodWeave International for raising consumer awareness and positive action in the carpet industry. In 2014, he was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for “struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”

 He recounts several tales of rescue. “I was rescuing a group of children from a factory that I had heard about.  I was driving the van myself since it was risky to have a driver. Drivers often are bribed and we could get hurt. This had happened before .  I asked the children to eat some bananas that were in the car. To my utter surprise they had never seen a banana and started to eat it without peeling.  They had only seen potatoes and onions. It was a sad moment. The next moment one of them held my hand and said – why did you not come before?”

“This clearly showed me there is no time to waste. As we are celebrating the Goddesses Durga Lakshmi Saraswathi during the year, let us not forget the little Goddesses who sometimes have no opportunity and in fact suffer” said Satyarthi. 

Satyarthi graduated from the Samrat Ashoka Technical Institute. “I think my engineering training makes me look at problems and wants me to seek solutions” 

He has a great sense of humor. “I always wanted to take a picture with a Nobel Laureate. I never got that chance until recently. As soon as I heard the news I went to mirror and took a selfie” said Satyarthi. 

What advice do you have the community? “I ask all to take a pledge to do their bit.  Do as much or as little as you can. There are so many children who need your help . Hold out a helping hand”

Satyarthi would like to connect 100 million privileged children to 100 million underprivileged children so that they can support each other. 

Meeting Kailash ji was a special moment in my life. Surely the Lord is kind to give such people to the world who dream seemingly impossible dreams and work to achieve them.  I consider myself blessed to have met him. My work at Ekal will surely help the cause of children. When Ekal succeeds, village children will not be lured away into slavery by false promises.  

I look forward to a decade where perhaps children will not suffer world over and will be able to live happy healthy lives. 

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