A tireless campaigner who spearheaded the fight against exploitation of children, especially those from the remotest and unnoticed parts of the country, Kailash Satyarathi, through his NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan, has rescued and rehabilitated thousands of voiceless underage people of the country.
A few days after winning the coveted Nobel Peace Prize, Satyarathi took some time off to answer questions on child rights and things that need to be done in Assam and the North East which, over the years have been the focal areas of his movement in India, in an interview to Sanjoy Ray.
Q: At the outset let me congratulate you on winning the Nobel Peace Prize. It is a proud moment for our country. What does it mean to you and how is winning the Nobel going to boost your mission?
A:�It is a fight that is going to continue until every child in the world is free from bondage and my past endeavours are my future endeavours too. I have not won the Prize, but the country has won it. The mission will not stop and I am happy that the Nobel Committee has given importance to the issue of child labour and exploitation of children and education for all.
Q: Your NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) has changed the course of many young children�s lives? But where do you feel the society is lacking when it comes to understanding or for that matter, upholding child rights, especially in a State like Assam? How do you view the problem in Assam or the North East?
A: There has to be awakening in the society in terms of understanding that children have rights. During the past few years the North-East, in particular Assam, has emerged as one of the biggest source areas, transit routes and destinations for child trafficking.
Some nefarious people from West Bengal, Assam and Meghalaya have set up so-called placement agencies to supply domestic helps to major metropolitan cities, while other agencies have gone ahead engaging local agents from the North- East for procuring children.
Besides being trafficked to work as domestic helps, thousands of minor girls and boys from the North East are held in bondage in the �zari-embroidery� and garment manufacturing industry of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Additionally, a large number of adolescent girls are duped in the garb of decent employment, only to land up in prostitution or be sold as brides in states like Haryana, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh.
Q: You (BBA) have been doing a lot when it comes to rescuing children of Assam trafficked for forced labour and even prostitution, to others parts of India like Delhi and Haryana. Have you noticed or observed any specific pattern?
A: It is an organised crime. The traffickers befool and befriend the gullible parents of the children living in interiors and remote villages of Assam on the pretext of a better future, education and job. The parents, not knowing the modus operandi of the traffickers, send their children and the children land up as slaves in Delhi and Haryana, often sexually and physically exploited. I have come across dozens of incidents wherein Assamese girls have been victims of trafficking and modern-day slavery. Most of these children are trafficked from Lakhimpur and Kokrajhar districts. Tea gardens of Udalguri, Sonitpur and Bongaigaon among other poor areas of lower Assam also happen to be source areas infested with a well-organised nexus of criminals.
Q: Does gender inequality persist in Assam? Your thoughts on that?
A: Yes, gender inequality persists all over the country and Assam is no different.
Q: Are you happy the way the State (Assam Government) machinery, over the years, has responded to the problem in Assam, which is one of the source States? What can be done to effect better coordination among the stakeholders? Finally, for a State like Assam where does the solution lie?
A: The Assam government has recently become more active, they participated with us in organising the Northeast March Against Trafficking in 2012-13. The trafficking nexus in Assam must be properly investigated and systematically dismantled by taking stringent and punitive action against all those who are involved in this heinous crime. Establishing fast track courts and initiating summary trials for such matters could be very effective. Media, civil society, government and village institutions should work hand in hand in source areas of child trafficking to educate and empower the local community. In addition to this child labourers must be thoroughly identified, rescued and rehabilitated comprehensively. Government must proactively ensure free, quality and meaningful education while working towards enrolment of out-of-school children and their sustained retention.