By Nishad Sanzagiri:
The Nobel Committee, on 10th October 2014, announced that Malala Yousafzai, the 17-year-old inspirational Pakistani girl — a global champion for education and women’s rights, has won the Nobel Peace Prize, jointly with an Indian who went by the name of Kailash Satyarthi.
Social media erupted following the news, many seeing it as a symbolic gesture from the Nobel Committee in awarding an Indian and a Pakistani the much coveted Peace Prize — all the more emblematic now, considering the constant ceasefire violations taking place from both sides of the Indo-Pak border.
With Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulating both Satyarthi and Yousafzai, and tweeting: “Congratulations to Shri Kailash Satyarthi on being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The entire nation is proud of his momentous achievement.” it looks like there’s much cause for celebration for Indians and Pakistanis alike. However, what we forget is that nearly all Indians went, “Kailash who?” when the news first came out — and why not? The Indian government hasn’t recognised his efforts yet, nor has the Indian media given him due credit for the momentous work that he’s done for eradicating child labour.
In a country where we award Bollywood actors and actresses, and sportsmen and women, the country’s highest civilian award — a man who, in his 34 years in activism, has helped save the lives of about 80,000 children from bonded labour, goes unnoticed. This is not a moment to rejoice — but to introspect as a nation, and to sift through our priorities.
We may not like to accept it, but child slavery is a huge problem in India right now — a cursory Google search on child labour in the country is enough to put any Indian’s head low in shame. We have the largest number of child labourers in the world — with the census telling us that child “slavery” increased from 11.28 million in 1991 to 12.59 million in 2001. Looks like as we progress in other fields such as space research and IT, we are still not that progressive when it comes to the basic fabric of common humanity — the right of every child to education.
Fortunately for Satyarthi, however, the lack of national recognition didn’t mean a shortage of international accolades. From being bestowed with the Defender of Democracy Award 2009 and winning the 2006 Freedom Award (US), to being conferred with the Gold Medal of the Italian Senate, Satyarthi has been recognised more abroad than he has at home.
As Sandip Roy put it perfectly in this article:
“The larger embarrassment is while we rebuke a Maria Sharapova for the temerity of not knowing who Sachin Tendulkar is, we have been caught with our pants down as we desperately Google our first 100% pucca desi Nobel Peace prize winner.”
That said, our neighbour might not have it that well off either — I mean, at least Satyarthi isn’t in exile in Birmingham right now. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may have labelled Malala Yousafzai as the “the pride of Pakistan” following news of the Nobel Prize, however, no one can deny the fact that the threat from the Taliban is sizeable enough to render any thoughts of her return home highly improbable.
As our respective armies on both sides of the border take part in relentless ceasefire violations, here is an international body showing us that we have an option — that it is still not too late. We can choose to disregard this as another bandwagon and forget the problems our countries are facing right when #NobelPeacePrize stops trending on twitter — or we can take it positively and try to mould our collective conscience in a way that would make our joint Nobel laureates proud.
As they say, the ball is in our court.