Pride and Shame: Two Sides of a Coin*

The Award

Dr Chandra Mohan Bhandari
It was with a mixed feeling that I received the news of Nobel Peace Prize to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai for the year 2014. I had to google [1] Satyarthi’s contributions and was impressed to the point of adoration; a person hardly known within the country had already received several awards in other countries: in the US, Germany, Spain and Italy. We do not have a tradition to recognise some good work on our own unless it has a foreign stamp. This has been the tradition with us for quite some time, and there have been innumerable examples of this. And there is little indication of this pattern changing in decades to come.
Kailash Satyarthi (born Kailash Sharma, hereafter KS), an electrical engineer by training, joined a college in Bhopal as a lecturer. However, very soon (around 1980), he left the security and comfort of his job and started an NGO to work for the welfare of the neglected and exploited children. Child labour and bonded labour, although somewhat in decline during recent decades, were still prevalent in parts of Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and in selected pockets in some other states too. A few motivated individuals had been raising their voices every now and then. However, the magnitude of the problem is gigantic and individual efforts, even though laudable, hardly managed to make a significant impact. It was in this scenario that Satyarthi entered the scene and started a movement known as ‘Bachpan Bachao Andolan’, i.e. ‘Save childhood movement’. He had to face stiff resistance from men who employed child labour for financial gains, but slowly his motives were better understood and support base gradually extended.
KS worked with dedication to pursue his efforts almost as a crusader for children’s rights. In course of time he became secretary general for the Bonded Labour Liberation Front. He was among the founders of the Bachpan Bachao Andolan. He has also been associated with the Global March against Child Labour and the International Center on Child Labour and Education. He was President of the Global Campaign for Education; he was one of its four founders along with Oxfam, Education International and ActionAid.
One of his main contributions was the establishment of Rugmark, which is also referred to as Goodweave; it was related to the rugs manufactured without using child-labour in South Asia. This organisation started a campaign in the West in the 1980s and early 1990s which aimed at raising awareness among consumers. There were other issues such as accountability of corporations in the context of socially responsible consumerism. KS has constantly highlighted child labour as a human rights issue. He has argued that it perpetuates poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, population growth, and other social problems, and his claims have been supported by several studies. He also had a role in linking the movement against child labour with efforts for achieving ‘Education for All’. He has been a member of a UNESCO body established to examine this and has been on the board of the Fast Track Initiative which is now known as the Global Partnership for Education.
KS has been alert to the challenges of all sorts. Bhopal gas tragedy is still alive in the minds of people in and around the affected city. KS has been fighting to get justice for the gas victims especially the children. There have been other issues pertaining to children. It’s really a matter of national shame that even in the twenty first century a kind of slavery is being practiced which does not spare even the children. The magnitude of the problem is beyond comprehension in a modern society. There are many other problems which need immediate attention. It is hard to imagine that several thousand children go missing every year and hardly twenty percent are traceable. What happens to others? Are they victims of child trafficking? Only some lucky ones get the attention of NGOs and crusaders for children’s rights. Several thousand others remain untraced and what fate they meet can only be guessed. In the national capital itself nearly 6,000 kids went missing in 2012 and the number was more than 7,000 in 2013. All over the country nearly 1,35,000 kids went missing of which majority was that of the girls. It is estimated that the number of untraced children in the country increased by about 84 percent between 2013 (about 34,244) and 2015 (about 62,988). According to an estimate an average of about 180 children go missing every day [2]. This number may be smaller than the real figure as in many states like U P, Bihar, and Jharkhand where not many are able to file an FIR. Even the Supreme Court had to issue a notice (October 2014) to chief secretaries of various states reminding them of their duties and responsibilities. World’s largest democracy and oldest civilisation has nothing better to offer to the unfortunate in its future generation.
Where We Stand

It is a matter of national shame that we are somewhere at the top of the ‘modern slavery index’. Modern slavery is defined as a situation in which humans are treated as commodities and are open to trade; they can be bought, and sold like commodities. This could be in the form of bonded labour, forced labour and trafficking. To learn that our country has the highest number of persons in slave like condition comes as a rude shock. According to one estimate there are around 13 million in this category while the total number in the whole world is around 30 million. Some other organisations put the figure as 46 million for entire world in 2016 of which around 18 million were in India. These figures are based on information through websites including Wikipedia.
Men like Satyarthi are motivated by their own interests and convictions. People do at times appreciate and recognise their contributions which are often reflected through awards. Satyarthi’s work was also recognised and he won many a prestigious award. These include: Defenders of Democracy Award, Robert Kennedy International Human Rights Award (in the US), Frederick Ebert Human Rights Award (Germany), and Medal of the Italian Senate. He probably did not get any recognition in his own country prior to his winning the Nobel although now there will be plenty of them coming. We seem to appreciate the work of any Indian only when he/she has won a big award elsewhere. There have been examples when talented individuals went from pillar to post for a job but remained unsuccessful. They migrated to foreign lands, and won big awards, and after that everyone started singing melodies in their praise. There are examples of men like Baba Amte whose solid contribution for the rehabilitation of leprosy patients and untiring struggle to give them a life of dignity could have motivated thousands of others to work for the cause of the unprivileged. However, it is a sad commentary on our social awareness that not many among us even know this.     
We as citizens of this nation feel proud that Satyarthi was chosen for the Nobel Peace Prize. This is the second peace prize awarded to an Indian citizen, the first being the one awarded to Mother Theresa. Yet every time I focus on the issue I seem to take it with a mixed feeling: a mix of pride and shame. If the prizes won by some among us are a matter of pride, then all kind of injustice and exploitation of children in particular is a matter of shame. I, as a citizen of the nation, owe a responsibility; to seek an answer to my own query: have I done enough to be labelled a responsible citizen? We are proud of individuals like Satyarthi. Is there any chance that he may be proud of us – an average citizen of his own nation?

Democracy in India has evolved over the decades – amid tensions, rhetoric, social-political turbulence and noise. In a democratic set up each constituent has a role to play and the role required to be played by intelligentsia, although indirect, is important and far-reaching in its consequences. The political class, bureaucracy and the business class for example have their own work ethics and motivations but it is up to the intellectuals to define, re-define and re-enforce the conceptual basis for a healthy democracy. We do seem to raise relevant questions as regards different aspects pertaining to the nation: social justice, education, human rights and other issues but somehow that does not form the core issue of our ongoing discussions. Moreover, there have always been divergences in our thoughts and actions; our response is very often fossilised and compartmentalised. By and large Indian intelligentsia at present is a motley crowd of parallel walkers [3] who move along parallel lines that never seemed to meet. We do think a lot but in absence of any strong serial process we are unable to create and maintain a chain reaction. That becomes a source of diversity which is welcome, yet in absence of proper co-ordination between individuals and groups the concept or idea is unable to evolve. The chain reaction can be compared to a relay race where the first runner runs up to a distance and hands over his token to second runner of his team who then carries the token further. And this requires a proper coordination between runners at different stages. In my opinion we have an inherent inability as regards coordination. Moreover, we are divided in classes and clans just like our age-old caste system – left or right, north or south, pro-something or anti-something. And for our own short term gains we twist and distort the meanings of – be it democracy or secularism or socialism. We can think and plan of probing Mars but are unable to see the happenings next door.  We behave almost like a paralysed organ needing someone’s care all the time whether it is about health or education or law and order or child labour. And all this is not an outcome of poverty itself; Indians are among the richest men all over the globe. Or if it is really poverty, then it could only be the ‘poverty of thought coordination’ [3]
We are in urgent need of a thorough self-analysis on our ability to live with contradictions and our inability to face the situations squarely. There are a number of steps in the mental growth of individual and a society. As humans we begin our conscious lives with the so-called ego which essentially veers around a self-image and strives hard to work for it. This is present right from the childhood and continues almost as a shadow. With time, another mental activity makes its presence felt which veers around our interactions with our immediate neighbourhood: family, friends, relations, etc – a whole gamut of social life. This is the so-called bio-social level in the Wilber’s spectrum psychology [4, 5]. The ego-level and the bio-social level of our psyche dominate in our early childhood and adolescence. Gradually the world with all its stresses and strains opens up before us and reminds us of the conflicts we have to deal with. Referred to as the existential level this part of our psychic activity veers around the conflicting queries about dualistic situations: life-death, good-bad, love-hate, and the like. In almost all cases, the three domains then determine our personalities till the end. The conflicts pertaining to these domains of psyche continue and we always try to seek a way out, but many a time find none. There seems no exit. However, there is an exit route outlined by wise men in all ages and in all societies. The conflicts and tensions between the three domains can be managed by referring to a fourth level of psyche which is known as the transpersonal level. In this state of psyche one is not confined to the interests of the autonomous self but tries to go beyond, to transcend the barrier of the self.
It is this transpersonal domain which is the source of strength, inspiration and motivation to men like Satyarthi. In the mad rush of everyday life and living most of us have been neglecting the transpersonal domain. A democracy in true sense demands a responsible role from each citizen and when this does not happen, socio-political turmoil like this springs up more often. A vast nation with vast resources and manpower struggles haphazardly to battle the legacy of feudal and conservative socio-political framework which seems to touch upon the modernity on one end and the backward looking and reactionary notions on the other. All these happenings suggest a severe shortcoming in our intellectual-socio-political fabric. We as a nation must re-define our priorities and pursue them relentlessly. In this the intelligentsia has a special role to play. Only then we may hope to find ourselves on the road to recovery.
If I remember correctly Satyarthi once said: “There are thousands of problems in our country. However, there are millions of solutions too.”
Having said that we should be grateful to persons like KS to remind us that:
In your proximity I feel
We are not surrounded by incapacities
But by possibilities.
And if we so wish
A door can be opened in every wall,
And through it
A whole mountain can be made to roll.
– Sarveshwar Dayal Saxena
(Translated from Hindi by the author)
*The various figures in the text are primarily taken from Wikipedia.
[1] Based in part on info in Wikipedia.
[2] Dipin Damodharan. The Blog, 15 July, 2017.
[3] C M Bhandari. ‘Land of Parallel Walkers,’ Mainstream Weekly, Vol 50, No. 45, October 2012.
[4] Ken Wilber. The Spectrum of Consciousness, M B Publishers Pvt Ltd, Delhi (2002). Published by arrangements with Theosophical Pub House, USA (1977).
[5] Ken Wilber. Up from Eden: Transpersonal View of Human Evolution, Quest Books, 1996.

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