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A short metro conversation with Kailash Satyarthi reveals more than the truth

The Noble Prize Laureate speaks of his passion project, and his obsession with making India safe for every child

brunch Updated: Oct 07, 2017 21:26 IST
Vrinda Motasha
Vrinda Motasha
Hindustan Times
kailash satyarthi,nobel prize,laureate
A writer shares her experience of a metro ride with Kailash Satyarthi

It is not everyday that you get to hitch a train ride with a Noble Peace Prize Laureate. Dressed in white kurta pyjama and a black Nehru jacket, I meet Mr. Kailash Satyarthi at the Versova train station in Mumbai. Currently on the 16th day of his Bharat Yatra campaign, Mr. Satyarthi and his team of committed volunteers are touring the country to raise awareness on the issue of child sex abuse. Born and christened Kailash Sharma, he later changed his last name to ‘Satyarthi’ as he set out on a mission to seek the truth and live by its virtue. An unassuming leader, he is quite oblivious to all the attention and adulation he garners, we ride the Mumbai metro together on a Wednesday afternoon where amongst other things he discusses his ongoing efforts and obsession with making India safe for every child.

Bharat Yatra is a passion project of the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation, it is a moral mass movement across India against child sex abuse, trafficking and exploitation of young children in the labor markets. Starting from the southernmost tip of peninsular India - Kanyakumari, it is a month long protest through seven different routes across 22 states and union territories bringing 10,000 volunteers together who are taking the issue to the Indian heartland . Using the traditional and time-tested technique of social mobilisation by walking and connecting inter-personally on the streets, the Yatra engages with policy makers, implementers, teachers, local leaders, law enforcement personnel, media, business leaders and most importantly with children and their parents, urging each body to take steps in the right direction.

Kailash Satyarthi with campaign volunteers.

He tells me “We want to take this campaign to every corner of the country – this is a Gandhian form of peaceful protest where we march in the streets, hold demonstrations, talk to policy makers and families – and in my mind it is the most effective way to bring change on the grass root level. We wish to unveil the moral epidemic that the country is facing today - every day 180 children go missing and two out of three are never to be found. They get sucked into the web of trafficking and sexual abuse. Countless others are violated everyday in unimaginable circumstances. We want to unite against this malice and unless this crime is controlled, children will continue to lead extremely compromised and unsafe childhood.”

Every child that goes missing is my child, every child that is violated is my child - and I cannot just wait and watch, I have to do something, this Yatra is a clarion call to action and activation.

I ask him about the heartbreaking fact that 80% of the abuse that the kids face is at the hands of someone they know or someone in their family. He agrees “There is a saying that charity begins at home, similarly I believe safety begins at home. Earlier if a child would point out that he has been mistreated, the parents would brush aside the issue for the fear that it would bring stigma to the entire family, we want to change that. It is the responsibility of schools and parents to raise their kids in a safe and healthy environment, steps and measures must be taken to teach the kids the concept of good and bad touch. Parents should try and be friends with their kids keeping channels of effective communication open at all times. Through our various workshops and talks we want to educate children and give them courage to stand – up against any wrong doing and let them know that we are with them.”

He also stresses on the importance of engaging with the government and social bodies to fast track the processes ” We want the courts to dole out the harshest punishments to sex offenders and traffickers, stringent laws should be put in place that act as deterrents to others in society. We believe the secret to achieving results lies in forging strong partnerships across sectors (civil society, business, government and academia). We also believe in mobilising resources where they will have the strongest impact and an outcome-based approach that relies on transparency, accountability, and collaboration”.

I quiz him if it is rather cosmic that he shares his Noble Peace Prize with a young girl child from Pakistan who has emerged victorious from very dire circumstances. He gets rather philosophical “Life has an amazing way of coming full circle, things fall in place in a beautiful way, interwoven like a piece of cloth. Malala’s story of struggle and resurrection is phenomenal, her experience is unparalleled and the way she has risen from the ashes to set an example is inspiring. Today in war torn nations children are living in unimaginable condition and facing challenges and hardships international community must take immediate action to stop this”.

In no time we pull into the Versova station welcomed by song and dance of the jubilant campaign volunteers. I thank him for his time and disembark feeling truly inspired, how this short ride had revealed to me his extensive journey of the past 35 years marked by success and failure in equal measure. his trials and tribulations are his badges of honour that has allowed for a gut wrenching belief in himself where against every odd and in the face of every adversity he stayed his course all the while believing in the power of good over evil. Such selfless men are few and far between.

From HT Brunch, October 8, 2017

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First Published: Oct 07, 2017 21:26 IST