Posts Tagged ‘India’

The human rights defenders in AI’s 2018 Write For Rights Campaign

November 25, 2018

 India: attacks on human rights defenders abound under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act

October 7, 2018

I recently wrote about India’s shameful place in the list of countries that practice reprisals [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/09/22/attack-on-human-rights-defenders-in-india-are-an-attack-on-the-very-idea-of-india/]. On 5 October 2018 this was followed by a joint statement by a large number of UN experts (Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Ms. Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Mr. Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues; Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Ms. Ivana Radacic (Chair), Ms. Meskerem Geset Techane (Vice Chair), Ms. Elisabeth Broderick, Ms. Alda Facio, Ms. Melissa Upreti, Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice; Ms. E. Tendayi Achiume, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; Mr. Seong-Phil Hong (Chair), Ms. Leigh Toomy (Vice-Chair), Ms. Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Mr. José Guevara, Mr. Setondji Adjovi, Working group on arbitrary detention) saying that India uses terrorism charges as a pretext to silence human rights defenders

The UN human rights experts did so in the context of terrorism charges – under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) – laid against 10 human rights defenders working with India’s poorest and most marginalised communities, including the Dalits, and urged authorities to ensure their cases are promptly heard in line with international law. All were arrested in June in connection with investigations into a public meeting organised a day before the 200th anniversary of the commemoration of a battle at Bhima-Koregaon, an important cultural event and a symbol of Dalit empowerment. Police subsequently claimed that the human rights defenders had links with ‘unlawful organisations’. “We are concerned that terrorism charges brought in connection with the commemoration of Bhima-Koregaon are being used to silence human rights defenders who promote and protect the rights of India’s Dalit, indigenous, and tribal communities,” the UN experts said. “We are very concerned about the charges against the human rights defenders and the continuing detention of nine of them,” the UN experts said. “All have been active in peacefully defending human rights, including those of marginalised and minority communities, political prisoners, and women, and their arrests appear to be directly related to their human rights work.

 

In June2018 Front Line Defenders listed as some of these:

 

 

Surendra Gadling <https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/surendra-gadling> a human rights lawyer and General Secretary of the Indian Association of Peoples’ Lawyers (IAPL).

Rona Wilson <https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/rona-wilson&gt;  is a member of the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP), which has campaigned against the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and other repressive laws.

Sudhir Dhawale <https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/sudhir-dhawale&gt;  is a Dalit rights activist and the editor of the Marathi magazine ‘Vidrohi’.

Shoma Sen <https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/shoma-sen&gt;  is a professor at Nagpur University and a long time Dalit and women’s rights activist.

Mahesh Raut  <https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/mahesh-raut&gt; is a land rights activist working with Gram Sabhas in the mining areas of Gadhchiroli.

On 5 July 2018, Front Line reported that human rights lawyer Advocate Sudha Bhardwaj released a statement refuting the false allegations and defamatory statements levelled against her by Arnab Goswami, news anchor and managing director of Republic TV. In a program that aired on 4 July 2018, Arnab Goswami alleged that the human rights defender was linked to Maoists. (https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/sudha-bhardwaj). Sudha Bhardwaj firmly denied that the letter was written by her, and refuted the false allegations as defamatory and hurtful. She also expressed incredulity at the fact that the source of the letter had not been revealed, and that the letter had surfaced at the studio. She believes that the malicious and fabricated attack on her is a result of a press conference she had addressed in Delhi on 6 June 2018, condemning the arrest of Advocate Surendra Gadling. Front Line adds that This smear campaign comes as a part of an ongoing crackdown against human rights lawyers in India, especially those who work with Adivasi people and Dalits. Front Line Defenders condemns the smear campaign against human rights defender Sudha Bhardwaj, which it considers to be in retaliation to her legitimate and peaceful human rights work. Front Line Defenders expresses its concern for the security of Sudha Bhardwaj, particularly as the inflammatory allegations may motivate judicial harassment or other forms of retaliation.  

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https://www.jurist.org/news/2018/10/un-experts-decry-india-terrorism-charges-against-human-rights-defenders/

https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23686&LangID=E

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org

 

 

Binalakshmi Nepram and Svetlana Alexievich win Anna Politkovskaya Award 2018

October 5, 2018

Attack on human rights defenders in India are an attack on the very idea of India

September 22, 2018

When India was named as a major sinner in this year’s report on reprisals against human rights defenders, there was understandable shock. Many NGOs and newspapers reported on this (a small selection below).

ARUNA ROY published on 21 September a piece called: “Attack on the conscience keepers; Attempt to silence the messenger”, which is an excellent overview of the issues at stake:

There have been a set of simultaneous raids and arrests of eminent social activists and public intellectuals over which the BJP government in Maharashtra and the Centre, and many human rights organizations have been locked in a sharp polarized debate. The arrest of Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha, Vernon Gonsalves, Varavara Rao and Arun Ferreira, in the Bhima Koregaon is a case that has all the elements of an attempt to use an FIR to target a particular kind of dissenting voice, and use undefined terms like “urban naxal” to divert from the main issue itself. This is not just baffling for the ordinary reader – but is a new kind of threat to the democratic practices in India. 

The attack on human rights workers is an attempt to silence the messenger. Given the very high credibility of the people concerned, an orchestrated campaign with the media has been used. News has itself become a strange brew of half-truths, rhetorical statements and deliberate mis-communication. In addition, the state and corporate interests exercise huge commercial control over the media, and many of the causes of tribal communities that are espoused by these activists are in direct conflict with the commercial interests of the media ownership. Users of “social media” advocate causes, make twisted statistical representations, and generate propaganda –all under the credibility that “media” enjoys in large part. The citizen is caught in a web of cross cutting information, where truth is elusive, and it is difficult to differentiate between fact and fiction.

Let’s try and examine some of the facts of this FIR. The Elgar Parishad was an event organized by Dalits in celebration of an old tradition- a historic defeat of the Peshwas at the hands of the Mahars in the 1800s. Two ex judges, Justice Patil and Justice Sawant, former Supreme Court judge and former Chair of the Press Council, were part of the organizing team. On January 1, 2018, there was a clash between the Dalits and the upper castes. FIRs were lodged by the Dalits and a cross case later by the others. The accusations now added to the list, were not in the FIR and none of those arrested were present either at the Elgar Parishad, or on the of January 1. The first claim made by the Pune police was, that these were Maoists responsible for planning and fomenting the violence that took place on January 1. The claim that the arrested activists were a threat to the state and national security has been added subsequently.

There is no doubt that rising inequalities in India are the leading marginalized communities – particularly Dalits and Tribals– to organize to fight for survival and reclaiming citizenship. The citizen’s exercise of sovereignty, ie asking questions about land and natural resources, non-delivery of services, justice and dignity, especially for the most marginalized and discriminated, is branded as anti- national to escape scrutiny. Their advocates suffer the same fate and are hounded to prevent the amplification of the voices against corruption and injustice. The categorization of “anti-national” has now a twin in “urban naxal”. Vague and subjective and incomprehensible; and yet they are used to prosecute and silence people.

The governments, normally riddled with corruption and arbitrary use of power, are afraid of disclosures, accountability and the rule of and by law. When they are confronted by public scrutiny into the exercise of unconstitutional power, they take refuge in accusations of terrorism, sedition etc. to suppress all questioning. The suffering communities and individuals are often the victims of the privileged elite. The RTI has legitimized questioning and the corrupt system is feeling threatened by it, as the attempts to amend and the killing of RTI users amply prove.

Branding of opposition as “Maoists or terrorists”, and “urban naxalites” has enabled governments to build public acceptability, supporting arbitrary decisions made in camera. Rationality falls victim to the fear of government vendetta and silence prevails.

The system protects its charges with dossiers and secret files created to indict activists. The use of the RTI has proven quite clearly that the sovereign citizen is often in ignorance of acts done in her/his name. Therefore any claim of “evidence” is suspect unless it is allowed public scrutiny. There are few tools besides the RTI to test sources of the evidence and the veracity of the testimonies.

This attack on civil rights defenders is in some ways worse than the declaration of the Emergency in 1975, where the motivation was to cling to political power. This is not just about political power, but to change the ideas of justice and equity. Like then, civic space is being narrowed down and an atmosphere of fear is created. But today, people who have dedicated their lives to and speak for constitutional rights are branded as criminals and terrorists and there is a vicious attempt to destroy their credibility. An attack on the rights of civil society by gagging its spokespersons will destroy the idea of India. This idea was crafted carefully by the constituent assembly to give legitimate space for the peaceful and just co-existence of disparate cultures, ideologies and thought, to enable a steady, though difficult journey towards a more just and equitable India.

For some of my earlier posts on India: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/india/

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http://www.catchnews.com/politics-news/attack-on-the-conscience-keepers-attempt-to-silence-the-messenger-133682.html

https://www.newsx.com/world/india-human-rights-un

https://thewire.in/external-affairs/india-a-history-sheeter-in-un-records-for-reprisals-against-human-rights-activists

https://www.counterview.net/2018/09/suspend-all-agreements-with-india-till.html

http://www.asianews.it/news-en/India,-five-Modi-critics-arrested.-Attempt-to-%27create-a-culture-of-silence%27-44800.html

Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative held meeting on Defend the Defenders

September 20, 2018

There are (fortunately) many conference devoted to human rights defenders, from the mega ones (such as the upcoming HRD Summit in Paris, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/07/24/announcement-of-the-human-rights-defenders-world-summit-in-paris-october-2018/ ] to smaller ons such as the one referred to here in Delhi by the Human Rights Law Network as reported by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) on 19th September 2018. Mr. Venkatesh Nayak , Programme Coordinator, Access to Information, CHRI moderated the inaugural session on “Attacks on RTI activists” at the day-long conference on Defending the Defenders organised by Human Rights Law Network in Delhi today. Panelists who spoke at this session included Anjali Bhardwaj, SNS & NCPRI; A K Parasher, former Focal Point for Human Rights Defenders, NHRC; Abhishek Singh, s/o slain RTI activist Late Ram Vilas Singh, Lakhisarai, Bihar and Sanjay Sahni, MGNREGA Watch, Muzaffarpur. Sanjoy Hazarika, International Director of CHRI made an intervention during the panel on “Attacks on Journalists.”

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) is an independent, non-partisan, international non-governmental organisation, headquartered in New Delhi, India, working for the practical realisation of human rights across the Commonwealth. In 1987, several Commonwealth associations founded CHRI as a response to South Africa’s policy of racism. These groups felt that while member countries had a common set of values and legal principles from which to work and a forum within which to promote human rights, there was relatively little focus on human rights issues.

CHRI’s objectives are to promote awareness of and adherence to the Harare Commonwealth Declaration, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other internationally recognised human rights instruments, as well as domestic instruments supporting human rights in member states.

http://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/events/conference-on-defend-the-defenders-on-19th-september-2018

BRICS leaders should have addressed human rights at their recent summit

July 30, 2018

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C) and Turkish President Recep Erdogan (R) interact during a family photo during the BRICS summit meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, 27 July 2018. EPA-EFE/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / POO

As they met in Johannesburg last week, BRICS leaders focused on the economy, development, peacekeeping, health and industrialisation issues within the bloc (accounting for 40% of the world’s population). However, equally important issues such as the protection and realisation of human rights in the respective countries remained off the agenda. Jennifer Wells, an intern with AI South Africa, on 30 July 2018, gave a useful reminder of what could and should have been also addressed:

Brazil

Brazil has one of the highest murder rates in the world, with around 60,000 people murdered each year…Brazil’s failure to protect black Brazilians from police violence remains critical as this year marks the 25th anniversary of the Candelaria killings. The tragedy, in which eight young black boys were killed by off-duty police officers in Rio de Janeiro in 1993, represents the endemic racism within the Brazilian security forces. The situation was aggravated by the murder of Rio de Janeiro human rights defender and councilwoman Marielle Franco on 14 March 2018. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/16/marielle-franco-38-year-old-human-rights-defender-and-city-councilor-of-rio-assassinated/]

Russia

human rights defenders and civil society activists continued to face harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrests across the country. The trial of human rights defender Oyub Titiev started in Chechnya. He, like several other human rights defenders, is being prosecuted on trumped-up criminal charges. Law enforcement agencies continue to launch cases on fabricated “extremism” and “terrorism” charges. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/15/chechen-human-rights-defender-oyub-titiev-arrested-on-trumped-up-charges/] The Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov, serving 20 years on “terrorism” charges, is on day 75 of a hunger strike demanding the release of “64 political prisoners from Ukraine”. The right to freedom of peaceful assembly has been increasingly restricted in Russia since 2012 and remains under severe clampdown. …. The rights of LGBTI people are trampled upon daily and the authorities continue to refuse to investigate the horrific gay purge in Chechnya. The World Cup has come and gone, but the suppression of freedoms and shrinking of civil liberties continues unabated.

India

It’s a similar story in India where human rights defenders are consistently under threat, attacked and threatened, often from security forces. India has witnessed horrific instances of alleged extrajudicial executions by security forces for years as police and federal forces have effective immunity from prosecution. In the North-Eastern state of Manipur, human rights defenders who have lost their loved ones in alleged extrajudicial executions and are now campaigning for justice, face unprecedented attacks. Salima Memcha, a widow who lost her husband to an alleged extrajudicial execution, was verbally threatened by security personnel. Her house was also vandalised by them. Three other human rights defenders in Manipur have faced similar reprisals for campaigning for justice for their loved ones.

China

In China, the government continues to enact repressive laws under the guise of “national security” that present serious threats to human rights. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobodied in custody whilst other human rights defenders are detained, prosecuted and sentenced on vague charges such as “subverting state power”, “separatism” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”. Controls on the internet have been strengthened and freedom of expression and freedom of association are under attack.[see also:https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/04/12/how-china-extracts-televised-confessions-from-human-rights-defenders/]

South Africa

In the host nation, nearly a quarter of century after adopting arguably one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, the country is bedevilled by profound inequalities, which persistently undermine economic, social and cultural rights. Failures in the criminal justice system continue to present barriers to justice for victims of human rights abuses and violations, including the state’s failure to hold perpetrators accountable for the killing of 34 striking mineworkers in Marikana in 2012 by the South African Police Service. Access to sexual and reproductive health services remain a human rights issue as does the provision of quality education.

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2018-07-30-what-brics-leaders-should-have-talked-about/

UN rapporteurs ask India to protect journalist Rana Ayyub and refer to fate of Gauri Lankesh

May 27, 2018

Many newspapers reported (here India Today) that a group of UN human rights experts has expressed concern over continued threats to journalist Rana Ayyub, calling on the Indian government to urgently take steps to protect her and ensure the threats against her are promptly and thoroughly investigated. “We are highly concerned that the life of Rana Ayyub is at serious risk following these graphic and disturbing threats,” said the UN experts.

Ayyub is an independent journalist and writer whose work has included investigations into alleged crimes committed by public and government officials.

The experts recalled the murder of another Indian journalist, Gauri Lankesh, who had also received death threats for her work. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/10/06/gauri-lankesh-and-gulalai-ismail-win-2017-anna-politkovskaya-award/]

The UN experts are: Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief and Special Rapporteur on violence against women.

https://www.indiatoday.in/pti-feed/story/un-experts-asks-india-to-protect-journalist-rana-ayyub-from-online-hate-campaign-1242829-2018-05-27

Breaking news: Five Front Line award winners 2018 announced

May 18, 2018

Front Line Defenders today – 18 May 2018 – announced the five winners of its 2018 Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk, naming Soni Sori (India), Nurcan Baysal (Turkey), the LUCHA movement (Democratic Republic of Congo), La Resistencia Pacífica de la Microregión de Ixquisis (Guatemala), and Hassan Bouras (Algeria) as the Regional Winners. Nurcan Baysal was also named the Global Laureate for 2018, and UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore presented her with the Award during a ceremony at Dublin’s City Hall. 2018 marks an important change in format: instead of one winner Front Line Defenders now recognises defenders from five different countries as Regional Winners. [for 2017: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/05/26/lawyer-wins-front-lines-2017-human-rights-award-for-helping-crimean-tartars/]

The defenders we’re honouring today work in some of the most dangerous areas of the world, sacrificing their own security to peacefully demand justice and human rights for their communities,” said Andrew Anderson, Executive Director of Front Line Defenders, as he announced the winners in Dublin.

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Nurcan Baysal, Turkey – Regional Winner for Europe & Central Asia & Global Laureate

Nurcan is a Kurdish journalist and human rights defender based in Diyarbakir. When the government launched a military offensive in the south-east in 2016, Nurcan spent months visiting Kurdish villages under bombardment, documenting human rights violations, and stopping to help families who’d lost everything in the conflict. Her writings are known for their critical focus on voice women living under the bombardment. When the authorities launched a military operation in Afrin, Nurcan took to social media to demand peace and condemn the violent assault. She was detained for speaking against the violence, and although later released she now faces up to 3 years in jail in a separate case related to her writing. Nurcan, according to authorities’ absurd claims, had “spread propaganda for armed terrorist organizations … and a call for provocative actions.” In addition to her reporting, Nurcan has also co-founded several NGOs, set up a camp to help Yazidi women fleeing the Islamic State, and been a key voice in countless reconciliation programs in the region. [see also: http://bianet.org/english/human-rights/197288-kurdish-journalist-baysal-wins-frontline-defenders-human-rights-prize]

 

Soni Sori, India – Regional Winner for Asia

Soni Sori is an indigenous and women’s rights defender in the militarised Bastar region of Chattisghar, India, where state-backed paramilitary forces are waging a violent campaign against local Adivasi tribes in the name of combating an armed Maoist insurgency. Soni documents and advocates against violence perpetrated by the paramilitary and police forces, which includes razing villages, burning homes, raping local women, and torturing and sexually assaulting tribes people detained without cause. Soni has also defended a number of educational centres from destruction by Maoist groups. In retaliation for her work, security forces detained and tortured Soni, pushing stones inside of her body and assaulting her for hours. Years later, men attacked her with acid and threatened to do the same to her daughter if she did not cease her advocacy on behalf of tribeswomen raped by the security forces. She has refused to stop her work, and continues to travel into the Maoist regions to speak with survivors of the ongoing conflict. [see also: https://feminisminindia.com/2018/05/18/soni-sori-wins-front-line-defenders-award/and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/02/23/human-rights-defenders-in-india-democracy-is-not-enough/

Peaceful Resistance of the Micro-Region of Ixquisis, Guatemala – Regional Winner for the Americas

La Resistencia Pacífica de la Microregión de Ixquisis formed in response to grave rights violations committed in the name of economic advancement in Guatemala. The government has authorised destructive mining and hydroelectric mega-projects in the region despite the widespread opposite from the 59 villages and 7 communities in the municipality. HRDs in the Peaceful Resistance risk their lives to defend the territory. In 2016 alone, there were more than 75 reported attacks against HRDs in the Peaceful Resistance including killings, shootings, harassment, and defamation campaigns.

 

LUCHA, DRC – Regional Winner for Africa

LUCHA is a non-partisan youth movement formed in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo that struggles against chronic corruption and impunity in the DRC. Initially focused on

local issues like access to drinking water, electricity, and youth unemployment, in just 6 years the movement has developed into an extensive national-level network of powerful social organisers. Peaceful protests and demonstrations led by LUCHA are routinely attacked by authorities. In October 2017, 5 young protests were killed during a LUCHA-organised demonstration, and many of their members and leaders having been arrested and detained during peaceful assemblies. The Congolese national intelligence agency has detained several members, who have endured physical and psychological abuse in detention.

Hassan Bouras – Regional Winner for the Middle East & North Africa

Hassan Bouras is a journalist, blogger, leading member of the Algerian League of Human Rights, and founding member of the Rejection Front, a coalition against fracking to extract shale gas in Algeria. His reporting on both corruption and torture in Algeria spans more than two decades and because of this work he has been repeatedly targeted by Algerian authorities. He has continued his writing and advocacy despite years of judicial harassment, arbitrary detentions, violent raids on his home, and imprisonment.

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https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/front-line-defenders-award

Indian Human Rights Commission calls for entrees into film competition

March 20, 2018

Having just raised in this blog the question of the power of images [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/20/human-rights-films-call-for-action-or-entertainment/] it was interesting to note that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India has opened the entries for its fourth annual competition for short films on human rights. ”The aim of the award scheme is to encourage and acknowledge cinematic and creative efforts of the Indian citizens, irrespective of their age, towards the promotion and protection of human rights,’‘ the Commission said in an official statement on Monday.

The award carries a certificate along with prize money of Rs one lakh, Rs 75,000 and Rs 50,000 for the best first,second and third film respectively. Deadline 2 July 2018. The short films may be in any Indian languages with either sub-titles in English or in English language.
Read more at:

http://www.uniindia.com/nhrc-opens-entries-for-its-4th-annual-competition-for-short-films-on-human rights/india/news/1173026.html#VBdrQZ5j82gJpSQ0.99

 

Kailash Satyarthi, the man who defends children

January 23, 2018

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” 
Nelson Mandela, Former President of South Africa

 

 conducted the interview (excerpts): 

P.K:   Namaste Kailash ji! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with India Currents. As a mother, as an Indian American, it is a matter of great pride to be able to do this interview with you today! Looks like you are back after a lot of travel?

K.S:   Yes. Once the Nobel Prize committee gives you a medal of peace, they take away your ‘peace’ for the rest of your life! (laughs) I am quite used to travel, having been involved in multiple causes, working across 140 countries. As the founder of two largest societal coalitions, Global Campaign for Education & Global Marketing against child labor, my life does involve a considerable amount travel.

……

P.K:   And now with the Nobel Peace Prize, you have a bigger voice, a further reach, a larger umbrella naturally. I looked up your biography online as research for this interview. Born in Madhya Pradesh as Kailash Sharma, subsequent change in last name to Satyarthi , the recipient of several awards etc etc… but I’d like to know about the ‘Man’ within these details.

K.S:   I don’t think of myself as a man – I still consider myself a child! (laughs) For me, childhood does not mean just the age factor. Childhood means so much more… transparency, thirst for learning, curiosity… all these are related to childhood. I feel strongly that there is a child inside each of us. But we keep suppressing him/her all the time and try to be more mature. And maturity brings artificiality, diplomacy, sometimes falsehood. A child does not care to do things only to make others happy. A child is very straight forward. This quality is something to be preserved. And it is my inspiration & learning.

P.K:   I’m looking at the list of awards you have received over the years, starting from 1993 – Elected Ashoka Fellow Award, the Robert. F. Kennedy Human Rights Award – to name a couple. Obviously the Nobel Peace Prize is a distinct honor. It is a matter of pride for India, for Indians abroad and for activists all over the world. Can you speak about how this award is helping to carry your voice?

K.S:   Yes, it has definitely helped me spread my message further. But I do not consider this award solely in my honor. The Nobel Peace Prize has been a major recognition for those most deprived, neglected and marginalized lot of humanity – the children who are enslaved & trafficked. I always say that I represent the ‘voice of silence’. They are my children who are hidden under the cloak of invisibility. So now that people have started to recognize my children – it is the greatest award for me!

…..

P.K:   What made you pick up the mantle as the person who speaks for children? Tell us something about the journey so far.

K.S:   When I started my work in 1981, there was never a question that I do anything other than what I chose to do for children s’ rights. It was a non-issue for me. The conventional wisdom was to collect money or help with charity. And it stopped there. I realized something more should be done. The denial of freedom and human dignity was so deeply rooted. It was non-negotiable. So this inspired me to give up my career. At that time no one was talking about child slavery and child trafficking. As a country, India did not have any laws to address these issues. Even on the international scene there was no legislation that provided me with a path to undertake. The U.N convention on the Rights of Children was adopted by the General assembly in 1989. So in 1981 I started fighting a lonely battle! I had the beginnings of a vision but had no idea about how to make it a reality. I faced total ignorance about these issues and when we brought in strong activism, ignorance turned into denial. People did not want to believe that this problem existed among them. We even faced opposition in the form of local mafia being set against us. So it was a long journey as you can imagine!

P.K:  How does your family, your wife Sumedha, your children – handle the dangers associated with your work? Obviously the values your have imparted have made a big effect on them.

K.S:  Sumedha was part of the whole movement right from the beginning. We did not have much money or materialistic wealth to give our children. There were dangers of course. When we finally got a telephone, it came with death threats made against me and my family! Slowly they gained courage and understood what my wife and I stood for. They helped with the children in the Ashram during their free time. That is how they grew up. My son Bhuvan is a lawyer and he handles most of the legal work for our cause. The cases he has handled have made a huge impact in the legal and judicial discourse in India.

…..

P.K:   Bharath Yatra was a massive social ‘wave’ which happened recently. Could we hear your thoughts on that movement?

K.S:   Bharath Yatra has been an unprecedented success! About a million people took to the streets to condemn and speak out against child sexual abuse. This has never happened before in India. They also demanded strong policy measures to be enforced. This was a turning point. Bharath Yatra’s preparation process began about a year ago before we launched it. The idea behind the Yatra was to take up the initiative and see how people’s response to something this large scale would be.

The most encouraging response came from the youth. Thousands of young girls and boys in schools and colleges across India marched with us. Some even came up to me to say “you are telling MY story”! Many appeared on the stage before hundreds of people and said they were breaking their silence to speak out about their own experiences. This was the most satisfying part of the Yatra for me personally. I consider this the beginning of my ‘war’ on rape.

……

The first incident was the rescue of a group of people which had children, men and women, in 1981. I had started a magazine titled Sangharsh Jaari Rahega – The Struggle Shall Go On – dedicated to educating the public about the problem of child slavery and the struggles of marginalized people. One day a man, Wasal Khan, knocked on my door in Delhi. He was a desperate father whose 15 year old daughter, Sabo, was about to be sold to a brothel. He told me how he, along with his wife and a few others from his village were ‘”taken to work with the promise of good salary and a good life,” to a place about 400 km. from his village in Punjab. The hours were long and the conditions were deplorable. So they ended up in slavery, no money, no freedom, working on brick kilns for close to 17 years. In these conditions, children were born, people lived and died. It was shocking that in the year, 1981, in the largest democracy in the world, people were being subjected to this sort of slavery!

I felt very strongly that I should not limit myself to simply writing about his case. I managed to raise a little money by mortgaging my wife’s wedding jewelry, gathered a group of people and went to the site. The poor man was caught by the owner of the kiln and I was thrown out of the compound along with my people.

I returned empty handed but not with an empty heart. With the help of a friend who was a lawyer we took the matter to the courts. And we managed to secure the release of all those men, women and children – including 15 year old Sabo. 36 people were freed that day! This was the first documented incident where children were freed from slavery through a private/voluntary initiative. And this gave me a clear path that I started charting. Within a few weeks after this incident, people started bringing other cases to my notice. And I never looked back.

The most recent one was only few months ago. This was the rescue of children locked inside bathrooms and held on roof tops in a factory in Delhi. The conditions were unimaginable. The children ranged in ages from 7 – 10 or 11 years. They were working – making toys. When I sat with them and asked about their working and living conditions, they claimed they were very happy, and I could see that they were simply repeating what they had been told to say. They were threatened that the police would come and arrest them if they said anything else.

When I asked the youngest child if he got a chance to play with the toys he helped make, he said no – he was not allowed to. If they made a mistake like that, they were beaten up. Apparently the last time he had played was in his village, with sticks and stones, which were his toys! He also said he missed playing with those stones! What was ironic was that in this day and age, when we claim to have made so many advancements in technology, these children were living in such deplorable conditions right in Delhi.

We conducted a second raid on the same day and also managed to free a bunch of children from a neighboring factory where they were sewing jeans. And they were brought to our ashram – Mukti Ashram – also in Delhi. The next morning we noticed these children were trying to shade their faces and eyes in the sunlight. That is when we discovered that for 3 years that they were kept inside a basement of the factory! They were forced to live, work, eat and sleep in that basement. And they had not seen daylight for 3 whole years! Imagine that!

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P.K:   You also have the Bal Mitra Gram concept. Can you speak about that concept?

K.S:   Sure. It has been my dream to make the whole world child-friendly, which is easier said than done! Very often the village communities are where child marriages and trafficking etc take place. So the whole idea behind Bal Mitra Gram was to transform the community at the village level – to make them child-friendly.

The first condition is – all children are free from the fears of abuse and exploitation of any sort.

The second condition is – all children irrespective of gender, caste or community are enrolled in schools.

The third condition is – all village children have a chance to form a governing body – called Bal Panchayat. This helps shape them as responsible individuals and to solve their problems through positive governing methods. 

The fourth condition – that the Village Panchayat – the elected assembly of village elders – agrees to not just recognize the Bal Panchayat, but also work hand-in-hand with them, by inviting youth leaders to official Panchayat meetings and vice versa.

When these four important conditions are met, the whole village becomes child-friendly.

P.K:   That sounds idyllic! Have you implemented these four conditions? Are there villages that are truly child-friendly?

K.S:   We have about 560 villages where we have managed this to date! In many cases the youth leaders are the very children who have been freed from child labor. We have about 400 girls who have been elected as Heads of the Bal Panchayats! This is a matter of pride for us! It is my belief that if politicians, leaders, NGOs, corporate bodies, all come together and resolve to protect one generation, then there is no need to worry about the generations of the future.

P.K:   Now Kailashji, when you undertake the kind of work you have done, there is always equal parts reward and criticism that you will face. It has been said that your work is a case of altruism gone wrong, that the children are being freed against their will – because the money they are bringing in makes a huge difference to their families. That is is acceptable for the children to learn the trade the families engage in. How do you respond to things like this?

K.S:   There are micro and macro level issues –  At the micro level, we try to explain to the families of these children how their lives would change when their children can better themselves, with education, with vocational training. We also try to connect them with Government schemes that are already in place. We have volunteers and former child labor victims who take social messages to the villages through street theater staged using local dialects and languages to create awareness. So these are two ways in which we can sensitize the village population to see things differently.

We have a very strong argument that there is a direct relationship between adult unemployment and child labor. Globally 216 million children are engaged in economic activities. Out of this, there are about 152 million children engaged as full-time child laborers. If you draw a comparison with the existing number of youth/adult unemployed globally, the number is 210 million. It is a proven fact that 71% of children are working in the agricultural sector globally. And there is a direct correlation to the number of jobless, unemployed adults! This vicious circle must be broken.

In today’s digital economy, we cannot think of social justice, equality, growth or ways to get rid of poverty in personal or social life without an education. These 216 million children are being denied their chance at escape, by denying them education. So I have been advocating a triangular paradigm to show that – child labor, poverty and illiteracy – form a three way relationship. This is a cause and consequence relationship.

The criticism is part of my work. But the numbers speak for themselves.

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https://indiacurrents.com/kailash-satyarthi-representing-the-sound-of-silence/