Saturday, 11 October 2014

Is Nobel peace prize for Satyarthi a matter of honour and joy for India? All child labour is not evil, IMHO

Some concerns crop up with the Nobel peace prize being awarded jointly to India's Kailash Satyarthi (and Pakistan's Malala Yousufzai), like:
a) Does this honour India and Indians or is it kind-of critical? Should Indians (including me) and people with Indian roots/connections feel joyous or sorrowful?
b) Why was it awarded jointly to an Indian Hindu man (Satyarthi is reported to have been mentored by Swami Agnivesh, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnivesh) and a Pakistani Muslim girl? Was it just coincidence or was there more to it?

I think the Norwegian Nobel Committee chairman's answers as given in this Hindu article are quite satisfactory to me, Important to honour Indians working for the greater good: Jagland, http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/important-to-honour-indians-working-for-the-greater-good-jagland/article6490465.ece.

I found this Washington Post article on Satyarthi to be quite good, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/peace-prize-recipient-kailash-satyarthi-has-long-campaigned-against-child-labor/2014/10/10/358956aa-5078-11e4-877c-335b53ffe736_story.html.

Surely, this Nobel prize, given jointly to an Indian, cannot be a matter of joy alone. It has to be tempered with sorrow and anguish that there seems to be so much injustice done to children in India in bonded labour kind-of conditions that persons like Satyarthi are needed to fight it (I say seems to be as I do not know the situation well enough to be sure).

I should also say that I personally feel that children helping out the family in some family profession work (like the cobbler child case that Satyarthi refers to in the Washington Post article) to eke out the family's survival should not be seen as evil child labour. That is the brutal reality of the poorest of the poor in India. The government, so far, has not been able to guarantee food, clothing and shelter security to these poorest of the poor. Once that is done, then the govt. gets the right to dictate terms to the family in terms of educating its children. Otherwise, it just does not seem to work out, and the attempts of forcing the children to go to school when the family situation is so desperate may end up in aggravating the family's problems including the child's problems, instead of helping it.

Let me take a real-life case. A poor woman in Puttaparthi, whom I am acquainted with, has separated from her husband as he chose to live with another woman. She has two sons aged around 10 (maybe 12 and 10, or 11 and 9 - something like that). She lives in a rented room, sends her sons to a school in Puttaparthi run by, I believe, charity-oriented well-to-do foreigners who give free education as well as food for the children. She is uneducated (illiterate) and does not even seem to have enough documentation with her to be able to open a bank account under the PM Jan Dhan Yojana! Her documentation info. seems to be with her husband and she is reluctant to go to him to get her documents (Aadhaar card, ration card).

I am of the view that the woman should encourage her sons to do some work as early as possible. Like being a newspaper boy, a helper to her father's washerman work or a helper to some shop etc., where the boys do both, their education as well as this work. The work will teach them real-life stuff and pave the way for them to get into some Puttaparthi village/small-town profession. Given their desperate state of financial affairs I really don't know how formal education alone is going to help them much. Sure they need to pick up basic reading, writing, arithmetic etc. skills. But beyond that the money needed to get a proper higher education which will land them a well-paid job seems to be just out of their reach. Far better for them to pick up a village/small-town profession than earn a higher-education degree like B.A./B.Com. from a local college in this district as I see many with such degrees among Puttaparthi locals who have been completely unable to land a job, and tend to become frustrated youth who can easily become a source of problems for the family and the community.

A far better scenario for higher education for the Puttaparthi poor is to work and study side-by-side. A past night-watchman of my building at Puttaparthi studied and completed Telugu medium B.A. and M.A. from a local college (Bukkapatnam, if I recall correctly). Last I heard he was a not-so-well-paid contract teacher at some local private (non-govt.) school, and was trying hard to finish B.Ed. and get a good rank in the state govt. school teacher exams which would pave the way for a well paid and secure govt. school teacher job.

Another case is a washerman's son who is currently doing something similar - nightwatchman by night and M.B.A. student by day (from some college near Mamilakunta I believe or maybe it is Kothacheruvu (both are not far from Puttaparthi town)).

So I am not so sure about passing laws preventing children under 14 from any labour (the law that is languishing in the Indian parliament according to the Washington Post article). But abusive and exploitative labour conditions (beatings, virtual imprisonment/slavery etc.), of course, should attract severe punishment from the law not only for cases involving children as victims but also those involving adults as victims.

Coming back to the Nobel prize to Satyarthi, the joy comes in knowing that there are such Indians who have made it their life's work to fight for children's rights even in the face of physical abuse and threats. That is inspiring. I did not even know of Satyarthi's name prior to him winning the Nobel peace prize.

The Nobel peace prize committee chairman, who is a former Prime Minister of Norway, said, “There is a global movement now to work against child labour and [for] right to education. We want to recognise persons who are behind it, promote them and give them more strength,” I support his view with the qualifications mentioned earlier, and I think this prize will help Satyarthi (and Malala Yousufzai) in his (their) efforts against exploitative/abusive child labour and promoting/for the right to education for children.

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