After the announcement of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize jointly awarded to Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi, there was a sense of overwhelming validation at the first name and of overpowering curiosity at the second name. Yousafzai’s remarkable grit has been justifiably well chronicled: a young girl speaking out for girls’ education despite the fear of brutal reprisal. When it comes to Satyarthi, as Sandip Roy, First Post senior editor and our own columnist, so acerbically put it, “most of India went ‘Kailash who?’ before they were proud of him.”
If you do a quick search for both names on Google, this is what you’ll find (as of Oct 22): 18,400,000 results for Malala Yousafzai and 8,510,000 for Satyarthi. And of the 28 pages of “relevant” results about Satyarthi, most articles have been written in the recent past, post award.
These results and reactions are telling and not because we didn’t know Satyarthi before and we’re obsessively following him now.
The Nobel Peace Award is one of the most controversial awards and too often the leitmotif seems to be currency, clout and connections. The list encompasses do-gooders, activists, politicians and campaigners already famous for their humanitarian and political stances.
In the past, the prize has been given to heads of state like Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin, Anwar El Sadat and Barack Obama; to statesmen like Cordell Hull and Henry Kissinger; and well-known, well-deserving non-violent activists like Tenzin Gyatso, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Martin Luther King Jr, yet eliding Gandhi.
So who is Kailash Satyarthi? Here’s the little we know. At the age of 26, he gave up his teaching career and started Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Mission) to fight against child labour. For 34 years he has waged a crusade for children’s rights. Thirty-four years!
It is people like Kailash Satyarthi, however, those silent strivers who are empowered by their own passion and persist in the face of staggering odds that too often remain a forgotten footnote in the human struggle for justice and fairness.
Yes, Satyarthi shares the prize with Yousafzai, the youngest ever awardee, and that too is transformational: two courageous advocates from neighboring wrangling countries, a woman and a man, both with an overriding need to safeguard children, the future of our world.
This time I believe that the Nobel committe got it right.