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AS A CHANGEMAKER

Satyarthi's strategic, well-defined and organized efforts helped in bringing numerous changes to national and international plans and legislation. A few of his remarkable achievements in this regard are:

 

Redefining the Bonded Labor System in India 1983

The legal and judicial interventions by Satyarthi and his organization resulted in obtaining landmark judgements from the Supreme Court of India. The 'BMM vs Union of India' ruling gave a new interpretation to the constitutionally prohibited forced labor and bonded labor. Through this historic judgement, those who are denied minimum wages were brought under the legal definition of forced labor and bonded labor.

 

Domestic Child Labor 1999

Satyarthi and his team liberated a 7-year old boy Ashraf from the residence of a senior government official. This domestic servant was branded with a hot iron rod all over his body for committing the mistake of drinking the leftover milk in a glass. Satyarthi took Ashraf personally before the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), and requested the Commission to not only do justice to the child but also make a provision that prohibits government employees from employing child servants. After a long battle, the central government and over a dozen state governments agreed to amend their Employees' Service rules. This has been a major breakthrough.

 

ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labor 1999

A good amount of credit for the formation of this law goes to him and the Global March movement. He was the one who invariably brought the demand to combat bonded child labor, child slavery, children in hazardous occupations, through his testimonies before the UN Working Group on Slavery since the mid-80s. The Global March Against Child Labor had this as one of its key demands. The most critical issue was to convince the tripartite constituents to agree to include a provision where civil society and children themselves are consulted in designing, implementing and monitoring of the ILO Convention. Satyarthi single-handedly tackled this difficult tangle with the working and employers bodies in ILO.93rd Constitutional Amendment Bill 2002Satyarthi has led a sustained nationwide campaign to galvanize mass support to demand a change in India's Constitution to make education a fundamental right. He has also been able to gather the support of over 160 individual Parliament members from all major political parties in support of the demand. A six-month long struggle 'Shiksha Yatra' (Education March) was a huge effort in this regard. Eventually, the Constitution was amended by both houses of Parliament in the 2002 to make Education a fundamental right.Bringing Child Labor on the Global AgendaIn the late eighties and early nineties, Satyarthi had a tireless crusade in Germany to motivate lawmakers like Dr. Kubler, Minister Norburt Blum and others to take pro-active measures on child labor. In the process, the German politicians were convinced to earmark funds for the elimination of child labor in developing countries including India. Satyarthi presented the idea of a multilateral and sustained funding pattern instead of a short-term bilateral funding, which was appreciated and agreed upon. Thus, a decision was taken to spend the money through ILO. The International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC) was the concrete outcome of these basic efforts.

 

Satyarthi had brought the issue very effectively before bilateral donors and development agencies who early had very little focus on child labor. Gradually, however, there was a considerable shift in their funding behaviour and the issue of child labor became established as a priority.

BREAKING SOCIAL BARRIERS
 

Casting Away Caste

When Satyarthi was 15 years old, he came into contact with the ground realities of the caste system. He used to listen and be inspired by the flowery words and speeches of the leaders and politicians on the necessity of breaking the caste barrier. In 1969, the country was celebrating the birth centenary of Mahatma Gandhi, the doyen of the social justice movement in India. Satyarthi and a few chosen friends decided to invite local leaders and politicians of the so-called 'high caste' to a community dinner in which food prepared by the so-called 'low caste' untouchables would be served. Though the leaders and politicians accepted the invitation, none turned up at the dinner venue. Satyarthi was stunned when he came to know after reaching home that the high caste people were trying to implement a social boycott of his family because he had taken the food prepared by low caste people. He was terribly disappointed at the hypocrisy and hollowness of the leaders who preach something and practice just the opposite. He informed the leaders that for his fault his entire family should not be punished and gave up his caste name and chose 'Satyarthi' which means the 'seeker of truth'. That incident transformed his life forever.

 

Temple Entry of Untouchables

In 1987, Satyarthi led a group belonging to low caste, popularly known as 'untouchables', for whom entry into temples was almost impossible due to the violent prejudices of the upper caste. Leading a group of about 200 untouchables, he forcibly entered the Nathdwara temple (Rajasthan) which is the biggest and most prestigious Hindu shrine in north India. Entry for untouchables (dalits) was strictly prohibited in this temple. Although, he was mercilessly beaten up by the goons and members of the priest community, he was successful in drawing the attention of the whole country towards this social injustice. The press extensively covered this event, which embarrassed the upper caste and the government as well. The President of India could not remain silently at the sidelines. He announced a personal visit to the temple with the untouchables. The net result of Satyarthi's efforts is that the temple is now open to all castes.

 

Soshanmedh Yagna at Varanasi

On 10 December 1996, when the country was observing the World Human Rights Day, Satyarthi chose to honor the day in his unique style. In Varanasi (the holy city of Uttar Pradesh on the banks of the Ganges), he organized a Yagna (oblation to Lord Fire) combining human rights and spiritual values. In an unconventional manner, he invited the parents of enslaved children from the lowest caste, the high caste priest, sociologists, lawyers and human rights advocates to participate in this sacred ritual where a joint pledge was taken to liberate the slave children as the real worship of God. Immediately, the participants set off to physically rescue the children. This was a unique combination of spiritualism, age-old cultural traditions and dedication to human rights.

AS A SOCIAL ENTERPRENEUR
 

Book Bank for Poor Children

Even as a 12 year old boy, the young Satyarthi used to observe social problems and tried to find solutions to the best of his ability and reach. He used to observe that many of his school going colleagues were forced to discontinue their studies due to financial hurdles. He had discovered that while going to higher grades the students usually threw away their used books. A novel idea propelled him to engage a hand-drawn cart and started calling out for discarded books in his hometown. He felt excited over his achievement of collecting over 2000 books in one day. This taught him a new lesson on how people's participation could be brought in if a person has the determination to solve a problem. Later, he and a few friends set up a book bank which used to lend these books to poor children and help them to pursue their studies without economic burden on their parents.

 

After a few years, he also formed a youth group in his town which used to generate petty funds by organizing fetes, running teashops, polishing boots etc. during various social occasions. The money raised was then used to pay school fees for needy children.

 

Liberating Thousands of Child Slaves

Satyarthi has been instrumental in freeing thousands of child slaves from numerous industries. He has evolved various strategies and methods to secure freedom for the slave children. These include direct action, secret raids, judicial interventions, parental motivation, community mobilization, persuading and pressurizing employers, etc. Hundreds of real life stories of his liberation operations have motivated countless people to join the fight against child labor. He remembers with clarity the heartrending incident of 1982 from one of the first rescue operations.

 

It was in March 1982 that the freed bonded girl Gulabo (14 years) breathed her last in the lap of Satyarthi, crying out 'save me, save me, my mother'. The girl had contracted tuberculosis while she was working at a brick-kiln in a north Indian province. She was a slave like 32 others. It was only after great difficulties and strenuous efforts that Satyarthi and his associates had procured court orders for their release. However, when they reached the site, the employer had already driven the slave laborers away. The children were later found deserted on the roadside. It was raining heavily and Gulabo was running a high fever. But, Satyarthi could not reach the hospital in time and the girl succumbed to the disease.

 

He also recalls Kalu, a 13 year old boy who asked a straight question to none other than President Bill Clinton, 'Whose children are these 250 million child laborers? Who will feel responsible to free them, if not you?' The boy was invited, along with Satyarthi, by Mrs. Kerry Kennedy Cuomo to Washington, D.C., on the occasion of the release of her book 'Speak Truth to Power', where Satyarthi's life and work is portrayed with 49 other champions of human rights in the contemporary world. Kalu was kidnapped from his village when he was 9 years old and taken 500 miles away, where he was enslaved in a small home based carpet factory for three years. Later, rescued by Satyarthi, he was rehabilitated in a center run by SACCS. A brilliant student, Kalu was promoted to four grades in two years and has always stood first in the village public school exams.

 

Model Transit Rehabilitation Centers

Securing the education and rehabilitation of freed child laborers has always been an uphill battle. Though there are several government schemes on paper, they have never been properly and promptly implemented due to bureaucratic hurdles, apathy of the officials and corruption. There is often no facility of schooling for children in the slums of migrant laborers near the areas of stone quarry, construction sites, brick kilns, etc. since such areas are normally outside villages and towns. Secondly, the children freed from exploitative labor and bondage require special psycho-socio attention and an adapted curriculum. In the mid-80's, Satyarthi developed such special need schools in stone quarry areas in the North Indian state of Haryana with the active involvement of parents, community and children. He motivated the working parents to contribute through their labor in the construction of school buildings for their children.

 

These schools could solve the problem of local children who still live with their families, but the bigger challenge was to rehabilitate the children who are lured away or kidnapped, separated from their families and confined to work places for years. Satyarthi and his colleagues have initiated and established three centers for them Mukti Ashram, Balika Ashram and Bal Ashram. The purpose was not only to give them a transitory shelter, basic educational skills and vocational training, but also to shape them into confident and enlightened young leaders who can help in securing the freedom of their fellow community people.

 

The children stay in these centers for at least six months when a comprehensive development effort is made by their dedicated trained staff, some of whom were once slaves themselves. The young children are provided with a basic education to ensure that they can be enrolled into public schools. The adolescents are given skill training with a non-formal education. Satyarthi himself spends much of his available time with the children to celebrate social and cultural events and festivals of all religions to motivate them. At any given time, about 200 children freed from bondage and labor stay in these centers.



He has personally inspired, encouraged and supported many non-governmental organizations to take responsibility for the rehabilitation, education and training of child laborers by establishing similar centers or special schools. Besides Rugmark India and their successful centers, dozens of other projects are run by NGOs supported through the Indian Rehabilitation Committee (IRC) of which Satyarthi is the founder.



Bal Mitra Gram (Child Friendly Village)

The concept of Bal Mitra Gram (BMG) is an approach developed by satyarthi for total elimination of child labor and enrolment of all children into schools in target villages, through community participation and empowerment of children and the local people. Children of the villages then elect their representatives into the Bal Panchayat (Children's Parliament), which in turn is represented in the Village Panchayat (Village Governing Body). The children take up development issues for the common benefit of the village at the village panchayat meetings and jointly find solutions to their problems. The broad guiding principles behind this concept are parental persuasion, community participation, teachers' motivation, children's empowerment, the involvement of village Panchayats, democratic values, gender sensitivity and equity, social equity and justice, social harmony and awareness of human security issues.



There are more than a 100 model bmgs in india today and a process of replication has been initiated in other countries.

AS COURAGEOUR PERSONALITY
 

Children are always preferred for employment as they are vulnerable and docile, and their labor is cheap. Child servitude is illegal but the vicious nexus of unscrupulous factory owners, local police and politicians allow it to perpetuate. Satyarthi emerged as the single biggest threat to this alliance in a number of industries like stone mines, brick kilns, carpet, glass bangles, fire crackers, sporting goods and many more, which grow at the cost of the childhood of millions. His crusade, though aggressive, but religiously non-violent and lawful raiding of factories and mines, bringing national and international media to cover such operations, calling for the boycott of child labor made goods, and organizing legal and political interventions have fuelled the anger of powerful business interests. They have been keen to silence his voice and Satyarthi has been lucky to escape many of the sudden as well as planned attempts on his life. One of the most organized attempts to eliminate him failed in 1995.

 

In India, the carpet mafia had long been looking for an opportune moment to physically liquidate Satyarthi. Coincidentally, Sheena Exports, a top notch Indian carpet and garment exporter had faced cancellation of an export order worth US $7 million from a German firm on the alleged use of child labor. The cancellation order came in the wake of a televised show of a European TV network, in which clips of child labor working in the looms were displayed. The network also had combined it with an interview of Satyarthi.

 

Somehow, the exporter was able to obtain an arrest warrant against Satyarthi on false charges. He was arrested on 1 June 1995 and was kept in police custody in Delhi. Later on, his lawyers obtained bail for him. The case is still dragging on at the High Court in Chandigarh. The mafia kept vigil at the residence of Satyarthi and SACCS office. His family members and the office staff also faced their wrath.

 

As recently as June 2004 an attack was made on him while rescuing trafficked and enslaved nepalese girls from a circus in india. He along with his son and fellow activists was brutally beaten up and miraculously escaped this pre-planned attack on his life. The nepalese complainants parents were told by the local administration that their children never existed. The young girls had been forcibly taken to a hideout by the circus mafia in connivance with the authorities. While many others would have given up in such a situation, an injured Satyarthi came out of the hospital and went on a hunger fast in protest of the girls' continued captivity in front of the state assembly. Satyarthi's continued efforts eventually led the release of the girls after years of exploitation and abuse.

 

Many such attacks on him, including threats to his family and his personal safety, break-ins and arson of his offices and home, and even murders of his colleagues have not deterred him from his chosen path of truth, freedom and justice.

Kailash Satyarthi... the seeker of truth
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