Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi has successfully championed the cause of children. In a free-wheeling interview with G Sreedathan, Satyarthi spoke about demonetization and his ambitious initiatives such as ‘Laureates and Leaders for Children’ summit and ‘100 Million for 100 Million’ programme. Edited excerpts:
You have supported the demonetization scheme launched by the Narendra Modi government. How will it help the country?
Demonetization was a bold move by the Prime Minister. Every single rupee earned out of organised crime is black money. Therefore, it is a major assault on the backbone of black money and organised crime in India. Besides, children are the worst sufferers or victims of organised crimes such as trafficking, child labour and child marriages. Minor girls of 16 and 17 years are trafficked from Odisha, Assam, Bihar and Nepal and sold for marriages by middlemen in Haryana and Punjab and some other parts of the country, wherever sex ratio is skewed. Black money is generated each time a child is employed. For instance, when a child is employed for whatever reasons, say economic compulsions, poverty, etc., at the end of the day the employer has to pay a sum of Rs 40, in cash or kind. But in the case of an adult the minimum wage is Rs 240 a day. The employer never shows in his account books that he is engaging a child but shows he is paying Rs 240 a day per employee while he is only shelling out Rs 40. The Rs 200 saved a day per employee is unaccounted. If an employer engages 100 children he saves Rs 20,000 a day, which works to Rs 6 lakh worth of black money a month. By this way he can earn about Rs 72 lakh a year. This is much bigger an amount that he could make through tax evasion. This is a very serious issue. This is not enough as unscrupulous elements will find new ways to dodge laws. Therefore, new and tougher measures should be taken to prevent black money generation. Local authorities, government agencies, police and civil society organisations have to get their act together. But the government agencies should be held accountable: if they are not, black money will be generated. We should not give another avenue for creation of a new wave of black money in the country after these notes come.
But there is lot of criticism…
There were some problems initially and we have to acknowledge it. Efforts should be made to minimise the hardships faced by the people. But the whole intent behind the move is really commendable.
You are organising two massive campaigns – ‘Laureates and Leaders for Children’ summit and ‘100 Million for 100 Million’ project.
We are launching two innovative initiatives – ‘Laureates and Leaders for Children’ summit and ‘100 Million for 100 Million’. The ‘Laureates and Leaders for Children’ summit on December 10-11 aims at bringing collective moral voices at one platform. What we need in the world is morality in all fields – politics, economy, society, faiths and religions. Morality is depleting very fast, as we are influenced by consumerism, materialism and globalisation of markets, etc. Each Nobel laureate is a proven leader in her or his discipline. Their intellectual power, resilience and passion are unparalleled in their field. They also possess enormous moral authority and command respect as established thought leaders. This remains untapped for the world’s children.
But why did you choose India as the venue for the event?
India is the land of compassion, morality, peace and humanity. As a proud Indian, I want to initiate a wave of globalisation of compassion. This is the essence of our soil and we should be proud of this. We are not the people driven by materialistic desires: we are driven by compassion. When the world could not think of geographical one-world, India’s rishis and munis gave the profound call of Vasudhaiva Kudumbakam, a noble concept that came into existence on Indian soil thousands of years ago. That’s why I decided to create this moral platform in India, in which Nobel laureates from all walks of life and moral leaders come together to become the strongest possible voice for the most deprived, most neglected, and most marginalised children in the world. The world has grown so rich over the years. We have never been wealthier. We are never faster than we are now. Despite all these advancements in technology and other fields, something is lacking and that is morality of connect. Let’s us connect through compassion, instead of being connected through digits. Digit is superficial while compassion in us is more powerful and enduring. In spite of all these richness, children are facing many problems. World’s children have not faced so much challenge as they face today. What is happening in Syria, Nigeria, South Sudan and other parts of the world? Children are not responsible for terrorism or violence. But they are the worst victims of conflicts and violence in the world. In our own country, in Kashmir, schools are being burned by these forces. Unfortunately, the world over, the youths and children are being misused and polluted by these forces which don’t believe in peace and sustainability of society. So, there should be strong challenge emerged from this moral platform. Protect our children: these children could be Indian, Pakistani, American or African. From wherever they are, they should be protected. This is an Indian value. If children of this generation are protected from all kinds of violence, the next generation would be a different generation. This platform was created for this purpose. When I proposed this idea, 34 Nobel laureates supported it. Out of them, 14 are coming to India along with an equal number of world leaders. Besides, Director-General of UNESCO, chief of UN Women and Secretary-General of OECD will participate. Agencies like Unicef and ILO will also participate in the event. In addition to this, there will be 150 personalities from all walks of life will also attend the event. The summit will come out with a strong declaration. The President of India will inaugurate the event.
Please tell us about your ‘100 Million for 100 Million’ project…
It’s quite an ambitious and unique project. About 100 million children and young people are denied their education, basic rights, childhood, dignity, health care and freedom across the world. Out of 1.5 billion people, at least 5 per cent (about 100 million) should be having strong component of idealism. They want to contribute to the society. But they don’t have a platform to express themselves and feel accomplished by doing something. So the idea is there’s an inbuilt sense of morality in young people. We have to channelize their energy. So 100 million young people who are well off will emerge as the spokespersons for those 100 million who are denied their rights. We have to get off the traditional way of finding our heroes from films. There is a hero inside each young person and we bring forth that hero. We need to make the world much safer place for children.
Connecting these many people is an arduous task. How do you propose to achieve it?
There are two to achieve this -- online and offline. We can connect the youth through social networking sites like Google, Facebook, websites and apps. We are in touch with youth organisations and universities across the world who will help us achieve the goal. We found a very good partner in Education International, a confederation of teachers in the world right from primary to university level. The organisation, which has 47 million members across the world, is not only supporting but partnering with us. So reaching out to 100 million in five years is not a problem. Besides, offline activities including inculcation of value of volunteerism among youths are also part of this programme. Volunteerism is very much an Indian value. Through this programme, we are rediscovering values of India – an India, which has infinite power to change, shape and eventually save the world. No other value system or idea in the world is as profound as ours. This is my driving force and my power. I am not driven by my knowledge or activism but by the spiritual depth of our nation, our traditions.
You have just talked about the Indian-spiritual dimension to development activism. It has been a taboo among a section of development activists to talk about Indian values. Please elaborate.
We have to change the discourse of development. About 30 years ago, an organisation called Asian Cultural Forum on Development was created by a group of Christians, Hindus and Buddhists of Asia. The purpose was to reinterpret the Asian values, which are essentially Indian values, at a time when Western model of development was ruling the roost. The question before us was how Asian values could be the driving force for development instead of the western model. Unfortunately, we couldn’t take it forward because of resource crunch. ‘Globalisation of compassion’ is a powerful idea based on Indian ethos and in five years the world will realise its power. When India was sone ki chidiya (the golden bird) it was also Jagat Guru. The golden bird could not move without the power of knowledge or wisdom. Knowledge, wisdom and compassion of those people made India Jagat Guru. Mine is a humble effort. But I call upon all people who believe in India’s position as Jagat Guru to join in this great effort to regain our country’s pristine glory.