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Kailash Satyarthi Recalling his Experiences Leading to the Global March

A great deal of credit goes to our donors who agreed to support and help us in the March activities! It was a major breakthrough, which gave us considerable confidence as well as opportunities for the widest possible network. We started identifying the remotest possible contacts who could be potentially engaged in our endeavour. Of course, to start with, the Hague meeting had already given us a base.

Our idea was to organise sub-regional wise meetings in South and South-East Asia, Latin Central and South America, East and Southern African countries and so on. Another approach was to organise my meetings with potential supporters in a number of strategic countries. Language was of course a big hurdle! It was not a problem in English speaking countries but when it came to Spanish, French, Portuguese and specially the local languages and the dialects, it became really a difficult task to communicate. Interpreters were far too expensive. I had to depend on our host to help and in most of the countries they were very considerate.

“I am proud to have so many good friends; some of them are just like family members. Ranging from Ehsan Ullah Khan, the great pioneer in the history of movement against bonded labour and child labour in Pakistan, to Anees Jillani, a lovely friend and leader of SPARC (Society for Protection of Rights of the Child) to Muhammad Zia-Ul-Haq..."

Let me share two contradictory experiences. When I went to Ethiopia I stayed in a hotel where the people were very kind and simple. Only a few appointments were fixed for me from New Delhi, India and the rest were in the offing. The hotel phones were not working. A bit disappointed, I was standing on the veranda, where I met Jo. He spoke well manageable English. He was curious because for the first time he was talking to an Indian. He was a cab driver who could not find a customer since three days. Every morning he used to come to the hotel and go back. In fact he had a very old car of his own which he used as a private taxi. I showed my list of addresses to Jo and asked him to take me to those places. He was thrilled. Earlier he had an impression that I was a businessman but to his surprise I started knocking the doors of small places in narrow streets and alleys instead of going to companies and wealthy offices. Some of them were local NGOs while a few were teachers’ organisations and workers’ unions. However, none of them was engaged in child labour. It was like digging a new well and thus challenging. Jo was watching this whole day’s strange affair. Then for the next two days he worked very enthusiastically, as my driver, interpreter and assistant. When I asked him to settle my account, he asked me whether I could go to his slum and have dinner with his family, as he wanted to be a part of the Global March movement. He did not want to charge any money, although I persuaded him to take at least a minimum amount. Sometimes small incidents make you feel that if your vision is clear, the cause is noble and you are solely dedicated to achieve it, you are not alone; you can find your allies everywhere. Jo was not the only example. There were several other incidents where people contributed in the smallest possible way in order to achieve the biggest mission ever.

But everything did not go smoothly. There were some hitches as well. One such example was in Vietnam. Again, the language was a serious problem together with the political sensitivity, which made things all the more complicated. Through the Internet we found about a lady who used to serve as an interpreter and secretarial assistant. We engaged her during my networking tour. She was highly professional. She met me right at the airport and stayed for three days. I invited her to lunch and dinner also. We discussed on some issues, Vietnamese politics and society in our spare time and there was no need of interpretation. At the end of the day she gave me a huge bill. I was shocked as she calculated her time not in hours but in minutes with double charges for extra time after 6 hours. She also included the local taxes in her bill. She had no emotional concern for child labour. She was not even prepared to accept the traveler’s cheques and I had no ready cash at that time. God! It was a nightmare! I still recall how difficult it was for me to change my money. I had to run from one place to another and from one bank to another and finally at the airport I was able to encash. Naturally, she was there and eventually I had to pay an additional bill for her time.

I had experiences of staying in very dangerous places in countries like Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania where we did not have any known civil society organisations. A young American volunteer from my office, Kimberley brought all the volumes of ‘Lonely Planet’, guide of dozens of countries. In some countries we were not even able to have such guides. After reaching the airport we had to struggle with some of the corrupt officials looking for a petty bribe on pretexts like yellow fever, malaria vaccination and so on. I had to explore the country with the help of drivers, sometimes at odd times when the flight was late and one had to encounter all kinds of problems like not finding any taxi at the airport or the money exchange counters being closed. Sometimes the taxi drivers who had fixed commission with some hotels took me to very filthy places where it was hard to find even a clean glass of water or a clean toilet. Besides, you also had to be alert of suspicious looking fellows waiting all the time for the opportune moment to steal your things. But I must say it all added to the experience! One more aspect that I would like to share was that I never came empty - handed from any country or town during my hectic schedule. I have never lost a single penny or a single article. No stealing. No robbery. No accidents, not even a small one. I have never fallen sick. This made me all the more confident that God is and will always be with the Global March.

However, I recall experiencing those good times while staying at the homes of some old friends during the networking tours. In other cases, the Gurudwaras (Sikh religious places) and Hindu temples in some countries served as good centres for accommodation. At least the vegetarian food or even sometimes the Indian vegetarian food was an added advantage in such cases.

I had received a lot of help from my friends during my tours. I must mention about one of my best friends, Rainer Kruise who was living in a sea-side apartment in Cape Town while working with an African organisation and after his retirement from a German donor agency, ‘Bread for the World’. Rainer has also been involved as one of the initiators of the carpet consumers’ campaign, which eventually became ‘Rugmark Campaign’, the first ever social label on child labour free rugs. He was excited about the idea of the March right from the beginning. While staying with him, and walking on the sea beach, during the late evenings we had a chance to discuss about African politics, society, NGO culture and mass mobilisation of the Global March.

Speaking about my friends, Lelio, my Brazilian friend deserves a mention. He had travelled with me intensively to a number of Latin American countries like Peru, Columbia and Argentina. In each of these countries we tried to visit places where child labour was prevalent and learned more about the issues while sitting with the workers and the peasants and their working children at brick-kilns, stone quarries and the field sites. There, while staying in a hotel at Sao Paulo, we heard a lot of noise outside the hotel. We learnt that it happened to be the day of the Samba festival. Everybody was eager to join it. But during this period Lelio and I were having serious discussions on vegetarianism and non-alcoholism. So we had to forego the temptation of joining the Samba dance and continue with our discussion instead. It was surprising as well as exciting that by the end of the night, Lelio ultimately decided to give up meat and liquor. A funny incident occurred the next day when we reached Columbia quite late as the flight was delayed. Both of us were very hungry and there were some non-vegetarian restaurants at the airport and close to the hotel. It was the first day for Lelio to stick to his word of eating only vegetarian food and he did not want to break it. Finally, fortunately or unfortunately we had to survive on half a dozen ice-cream as dinner at midnight.

I am proud to have so many good friends; some of them are just like family members. Ranging from Ehsan Ullah Khan, the great pioneer in the history of movement against bonded labour and child labour in Pakistan, to Anees Jillani, a lovely friend and leader of SPARC (Society for Protection of Rights of the Child) to Muhammad Zia-Ul-Haq, my friend and elder brother who was born and brought up in India but later migrated to Pakistan in 1947 at the time of partition and then eventually shifted to U.S.A with his family. Once he read my profile on the front page of the Washington Post several years back in the nineties and was so moved that he decided to come all the way to India to meet me. Since then he became like a family member. He got involved in child labour after crossing seventy and decided to advance the cause of Rugmark and later on, the cause of Global March. The cause brought him back to live in Pakistan.

All these friends of mine have taken the responsibility of making Global March a historic event in their own countries. There are countless friends in all parts of the world who treated the Global March as their own mission and the success lay in their active interest and youthful spirit.

While speaking about the preparatory phase of the Global March, I would like to mention a significant incident of my life. This is about Tiger, the Great Dane puppy who came into my life suddenly. The watchman of Mukti Ashram one of our transit rehabilitation centre for boys in Delhi, came across the injured puppy outside the gate. After being informed, the next day along with my children, I took him to a vet. We named him Tiger. Though a notice was put up about the lost dog, nobody came to claim him. With each passing day we fell in love with him. In due course of time he was completely recovered and started growing stronger. Above all he proved himself to be my saviour. That was indeed a fateful day. Over two-dozen armed criminals attacked my house and wanted to kill me. The gang belonged to a big exporter according to whom a big assignment was cancelled as a result of a documentary, in which I was interviewed. It was Tiger who first sensed that something was wrong and had some apprehension of people lurking outside and climbing up the sewage pipes and railings. For the first time we heard him barking so loudly. The drama went on for two hours until the local police, journalists, lawyers and many of my friends arrived. Nobody could believe that Tiger allowed those people to enter so easily.

During the Global March journeys whenever I started packing my bags, Tiger used to become angry. After a few months he lost all his excitement and used to sit in a corner with empty eyes whenever we went off or arrived from somewhere. I have been watching the changes in his behaviour with a deep pain, which is quite difficult to express. He fell sick during the time when Global March arrived in Delhi. I lovingly bade him good-bye and left for Pakistan. That moment I was marching with the core marchers, children and activists from several countries, chanting slogans at the Indo-Pakistan border with a huge reception waiting for us across the border. I received a phone call from my wife crying, as she could not speak. My son then conveyed the sad news to me that Tiger was no more.

But we had to keep on marching. There was no time to take rest, to feel and express, be tired or stop for a minute as the slogans to stop child labour was getting louder. The excitement was at the peak, on the 'Wagah' border, the symbol of age-old enmity between two nations and the painful partition of hundreds and thousands of families. Amidst the excitement, I was compelled to keep aside the irreversible loss, with a deep sense of pride.

Concluding part on the birth of Global March.

Kailash Satyarthi... the seeker of truth
Copyright © 2014 Kailash Satryarthi