Many years ago, a small boy walking towards his school noticed a boy of the same age down the road. He was working in a cobbler shop with his father.
On reaching school, the child continuously questioned the teachers and headmaster about the boy he had seen earlier. He was curious to know why that boy was in a shop and not in school, studying like him. None of his teachers knew what to say to him.
So he approached the cobbler after school and asked him the same question. The cobbler said to him – Some children are born to work.
The boy could not forget what he felt that day, a deep sense of injustice. He carried this feeling with him, questioning many parts of the society. When he was 15, he decided to organise a dinner on Gandhi Jayanthi. The dinner was to be cooked by the “lower castes” of his village for the upper caste leaders. At first, the lower castes refused. It was unthinkable to them. But he coaxed them, reminding them of how the leaders talked about abolishing the caste system.
When the day arrived, the meal was cooked and he waited eagerly for the leaders who had promised to come. Several hours went by and none of them came. He sat down and decided to eat the food himself. When he took the first bite, he burst into tears. One of the women who cooked the meal told him that the leaders may not have come, but an upper caste person did eat their meal and that day, he had won.
When he returned home, he was punished by the leaders. They began to treat him as untouchable. He, in turn, decided that he would outcast the entire caste system. He dropped his surname and adopted “Satyarthi” which means a “Seeker of Truth”.
This boy grew up to be Kailash Satyarthi, child rights activist, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, and the “Humanitarian of the year” award by Harvard Institute in 2015.
The struggle against child labour
During his years in engineering college, Sathyarthi learnt how the most explosive energy could be harnessed for our use. He kept going back in his mind to everything he grew up witnessing and believed deep within that his anger could be turned into action that could help change the injustice.
Having personal experiences with child labour and caste differences, he gave up his post as an engineer. Following the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi, he then waged a peaceful struggle to stop children from being exploited for labour instead of attending school.
He was the Secretary-General for Bonded Labor Liberation Front in 1980 and founded the Bachpan Bachao Andolan later that year. The project gained momentum quickly. Currently, 86000 children have been freed from 144 countries because of his efforts.
“The Global March Against Child Labour is a movement to mobilise worldwide efforts to protect and promote the rights of all children, especially the right to receive a free, meaningful education and to be free from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be harmful to the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development,” says Sathyarthi.
After the success of his first venture, he went on to different programs and movements. He started the Global March Against Child Labor in 1998. Members from over 140 different countries participated in the march.
Kailash Sathyarthi Children’s Foundation
In 2004, he began The Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation. The vision was a world where every child is free, safe, healthy and educated. The project focuses on policy advocacy, preserving child rights and being recognized as a global voice for children’s education. The organization aims at being a global umbrella for participation by people around the world. He was the 2nd Indian recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize after Mother Teresa in 1979.
His organization KSCF started a Bharat Yatra in September 2017 to spread awareness in the country about child trafficking and sexual abuse. The yatra had 10,00,000 citizens participation.
Recently the organisation started the Bal Mitra Gram (Child-friendly village) program across several villages in India. The social movement was geared at creating a safe and protected environment for children in villages where their rights are protected. The children are brought in and they make decisions for their welfare through Bal Panchayats (Children’s Council). They also participate in gram panchayats and take decisions on issues that affect them.
Along with this, the organisation introduced Bal Mitra Mandal or child-friendly communities in these villages. Here the children develop leadership skills and learn to advocate for their rights. These mandals also provide them with quality remedial classes to upgrade their education.
“From my own experience, I want to say that you should follow your heart, and the mind will follow you. Believe in yourself, and you will create miracles,” says Satyarthi, a man who united the entire country under the music of compassion for children.
You can support the incredible work done by Kailash Sathyarthi Children’s Foundation.