Monday evening was relatively peaceful after the media scrum over the past weekend. A few hangers-on could be seen waiting outside the L-6 office of the Bachpan Bachao Andolan in Kalkaji, a south Delhi neighbourhood, while the staff flitted in and out of the hallway, escorting visitors at the appointed hour to meet with the 60-year-old Nobel Laureate Kailash ‘Satyarthi’ Sharma. Others are turned away becauseBhaisahabji, as he is affectionately called, would not meet anyone without a prior appointment. A man with a bouquet walks in to felicitate Satyarthi (Hindi for “a seeker of truth”; the name has stayed with him from the days of his association with Swami Agnivesh, a social activist, with whom he collaborated on social causes such as bonded labour, and after his marriage to Sumedha, his wife of 36 years) but he is politely told to wait his turn. Some journalists who fail to meet him in his office are asked to try their luck at his 73, Aravali Apartments residence at Alaknanda before he flies out to Germany on a short visit later that night.
It was on Friday afternoon India time when the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced Satyarthi’s name as the co-winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize (along with 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan who lives in exile with her parents and siblings in Birmingham, UK, after surviving a 9 October 2012 attack on her life by extremists in Mingora, Swat Valley’s main town) at a function in Oslo. Everything has been a blur since then for Satyarthi and his family. As coincidence would have it, the announcement of the award came a day after the second anniversary of the attack on Malala and two days after the wedding anniversary of Satyarthi and on the eve of the International Day of the Girl Child, which is celebrated on 11 October.
The man may have been feted by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, a recognition that comes in addition to several other endorsements he has received abroad. But until that happened, he was ignored at home. Pradyot Lal reports
Nobody issued a fatwa against him or threatened to put a bullet through his head. The man who has wowed the world now was, in fact, busy doing his thing for more than three decades without the country becoming any more sensitive about intractable problems almost literally shoved under the carpet, as it were.
There indeed is a huge slice of irony behind the whole issue. Kailash Satyarthi, 60, had a rather unsung and innocuous status before the astounding star turn: he had a Twitter following of around a hundred before the news broke. Within minutes of the news having broken out, the following reached 29,000!
Sociologist Ashis Nandy, who is apprehensive that the Nobel Prize in both India and Pakistan may be turned into “nationalist clap-trap”, is not the only one who feels that behind the prize there is an agenda, and that the dramatics indulged in by the Nobel committee raise more than the usual questions about the intent and motives guiding the whole thing. In fact, geopolitics has always crept its way into the Nobel, even though the prize has apparently raised what some commentators call “the visibility level of children’s rights”. But, as Nandy points out, “these children do not have any vote, so it is very difficult to politicise the issue”.
Pradyot Lal profiles three legends who were ignored by the Norwegian Nobel Committee
There is a spine-chilling story about Baba Amte that was retold when he died six years ago. The first time he brushed against what seemed to be a pile of rags, it seemed to move a little. The pile was flesh; it was a leprosy patient dying. Eyes, nose, fingers and toes had already gone. Maggots writhed on him. And Murlidhar Devidas Amte, shaking with horror, stumbled to his feet and ran away.
It was the encounter with this dying patient that shaped Baba Amte’s life. As an obituary in a reputed British journal noted six years ago, Amte was outraged at the fear he felt: fear of touching, as if he shared the common belief that leprosy patients were paying for their sins and would infect anybody who came close. “Where there is fear, there is no love; and when an action is not done in love, it has no value,” Amte had told the journal. Deliberately, he went back to the gutter to feed the afflicted person and to learn his name, Tulsiram. He then carried him home to care for him until he died, and began — once he had had training in Calcutta — to work in leprosy clinics all around town.
India has several good samaritans who have been working selflessly, with no reward and little recognition, says Mathew Samuel
Exult as we must, the irony that the Oslo recognition carries for both India and Pakistan as they share the Nobel Peace Prize should not be overlooked. It will be criminal to forget the many unsung heroes who have not got commensurate recognition for the unconditional commitment and love they have invested in their tireless work for society.
How can we forget Baba Amte, for instance, who devoted his life to caring for those afflicted with leprosy. He never got the Nobel Prize, perhaps because there was nobody to hardsell him in the global marketplace.
His son Prakash Amte has devoted his life to taking care of animals. The ‘big prize’ has eluded him as well. After pursuing his medical degree, he started a rescue home for animals. It is difficult to evaluate his contribution in words as it goes beyond what we think a human being can accomplish.
The award reflects the ethnocentrism, bias and politics of the western world, says Rakesh Krishnan Simha
A delusion many people harbour is that the Nobel awards are fair and impartial. These are the same people who believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. But look at the cold facts in an objective light and you will discover that the Nobel Prize is gamed. In fact, the Nobel Academy judges can sometimes give a matchfixing bookie a run for his money.
Here is a short list of people that even a blind judge could not have missed: Mohandas Gandhi (rejected all forms of violence), Dmitri Mendeleyev (the Russian scientist famous for the Periodic Table), Leo Tolstoy (perhaps the greatest novelist of all time; also rejected violence), U Thant (played a key role in defusing the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis) and Anton Chekhov (one of the world’s greatest writers).
For all his failings as a political leader, Gandhi should have been a shoo-in for the peace prize. Many people of British origin living in different parts of the world owe their existence to Gandhi because he prevented the Indian revolutionaries from carrying out a massacre of their forefathers — the 100,000-odd British soldiers, bureaucrats and civilians ruling India. Despite the fact that the British were indulging in massacres in India, the Norwegians — who annually award the Nobel Peace Prize — did not want to ruffle any feathers in Britain by honouring Gandhi.