By Drew McLachlan
Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi has called for governments around the world to reject isolationism and embrace collaboration in order to tackle “the global epidemic of modern slavery”.
Satyarthi, who shared the prize in 2014 with teenage activist Malala Yousafzai, runs an organisation that has rescued more than over 85,000 children from India’s brick kilns, stone quarries, carpet factories, circuses, sweatshops and farms.
In an exclusive interview with Eastern Eye in London on Wednesday (26), Satyarthi said, “It is very clear that we’ll have to build partnerships and relationships and learn how to work together to solve these global problems, including poverty, (human) trafficking and slavery.”
According to him, the current political climate of protectionism, exemplified by Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as US president, is detrimental to the fight against modern slavery, but is likely a temporary trend.
“These political sentiments will change eventually, because we live in a globalised world. Countries have to depend on each other because the truth is that no problem in the world can be solved in isolation,” he said.
“no problem in the world can be solved in isolation.”
Satyarthi was in London to address a gathering of advocates, academics and government officials at the British Academy.
The activist has previously spoken of his desire to fight against slavery from a young age. However, given that there was little anti-slavery activism taking place in the country when he was a young man, Satyarthi said he wasn’t sure what he could do.
His latest project, 100 Million for 100 Million, was developed for young people facing the same dilemma, providing resources for them to learn about and participate in activism efforts.
Sharing his advice to young people, Satyarthi said: “They can start by raising their voices against evils like child slavery and child labour.
“They can also be a strong spokesperson for education and prioritising the development of other young people in the world. They can oppose violence in their schools and in their neighbourhoods and political violence around the world.
“(Young people) are not just the future, they are the present.”
“(Young people) are not just the future, they are the present. They need not look for heroes outside, because there is a hero inside of every young person.
“I see champions and change makers in every young person.”
Satyarthi recalled how he began his crusade against slavery on March 22, 1981.
Vasal Khan, a man whose family was working in bondage at a brick kiln in Punjab, north India, came to Satyarthi for help upon learning that Khan’s 15-year-old daughter Sabo was in the process of being sold to a brothel.
At the time, Satyarthi was working as a magazine editor, and determined to act quickly, he eschewed his original plan to write an article on the Khan’s struggle and instead assembled some of his friends, hired a truck and headed for the brick kiln to help free Khan’s family.
That initial attempt was unsuccessful, he said, and the group got caught up in a violent encounter with Khan caught and badly beaten.
A lawyer friend suggested that Satyarthi change his approach and take the matter to the high court. It worked – within a week, 36 people were freed, including Khan and his family.
“That was the moment of truth for me,” Satyarthi said.
“Then I realised the humanity of this problem of slavery. I had read about slavery, about freedom and emancipation and the political context. But I could not feel it.
“The feeling came when I was physically bringing those children from the court to my small office. The jumping on the streets, like keeping several frogs under a small bucket then opening the cover. The cars were honking and the people were running here and there, but for them it was freedom. They were enjoying freedom, but I was enjoying freedom inside me.”
“They were enjoying freedom, but I was enjoying freedom inside me.”
Since then Satyarthi has helped save 85,000 children from forced labour over three and a half decades.
Throughout his career, Satyarthi said he faced regular threats to his life, has suffred physical violence and also lost two colleagues.
He said: “I knew it right from the beginning that I was fighting against organised crime and the mafia.
“I was fighting against the forces of evil and these forces are very strong. Each time they attacked me or tried to kill me, I felt that I was on the right path. Because they wanted to kill me, it means they are very much frightened and feel threatened by me and my work.”