Meet the Nobel Peace Prize winner you don't know

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Marco Werman: Another big story today was the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize. It was heartening, though not a huge surprise to hear that Malala Yousafzai had received that honor. Since she was shot by the Taliban two years ago yesterday, the 17-year-old Pakistani has campaigned for girl’s education all over the globe. What was surprising was that she shared this year’s prize with a much lesser known activist from India. Even Malala today hinted at her lack of knowledge about him.

 

Malala Yousafzai: I would like to share with you that I had a phone call with Kailash. I cannot pronounce his surname correctly, so I just ask for forgiveness for that. I will just call him Kailash and hope he doesn’t mind. I had a phone call with him right now and we both talked about how important it is that every child goes to school and that every child gets a quality education.

 

Werman: His full name is Kailash Satyarthis. He’s 60-years-old and has spent his life combating child labor in India. I asked journalist Megha Bahree in Delhi to tell us more about him.

 

Megha Bahree: He runs an NGO in India called Bachpan Bachao Andolan, which loosely translates into Save the Childhood Movement. He’s brought a lot of media attention to the issue of child labor in India because of the kinds of very flashy raids that he and his team conducted, along with the police forces here in India.

 

Werman: You said “Flashy raids,” like raids on these child labor spots?

 

Bahree: Yes. Back in 2007, I think this was one of the earlier campaigns that got media attention. They carried out a raid on a GAP subcontractor in Delhi that was making clothes for GAP Kids. There were kids as young as 10-years-old doing embroidery on clothes, which is pretty ironic because kids making clothes for kids -- it’s GAP Kids, right? They working for 14, 15 hours a day at a time, so that brought in a lot of global attention. So, he’s definitely done a lot of important work along those lines.

 

Werman: You’re based in Delhi, where Kailash Satyarthis lives. What’s been the reaction there, in Delhi and India today, to his getting the Nobel Peace Prize along with Malala?

 

Bahree: Well, it’s really funny you ask that, because I don’t think many people know about him here. He’s not a household name, unlike Malala, so it’s a bit ironic. In fact, I think there was a blog post today on one of the Indian news sites, saying that his organization, BBA -- their website crashed because everyone was googling to see who is Kailash Satyarthis and what is  Bachpan Bachao Andolan.

 

Werman: Yeah, well the Times of India’s headline today was “Who is Kailash Satyarthis?” Why do you think more Indians don’t know who he is and what he does?

 

Bahree: I don’t think child labor takes so much precedence for the average Indian living here. Poverty is such an everyday part of our lives over here. So, it’s not to say that Indians are okay with child labor. I don’t think that they are blessing the situation. But it’s only when there is a flashy, splashy news raid or a police raid, which shows really troubled situations that these kids are living in, working in, is when the average Indian wakes up and says “Hey, that’s not a good thing that’s happening.”

 

Werman: Just give us a sense of what Kailash Satyarthis has been fighting. You’ve traveled around Indian, you’ve seen the problem of child labor in many places around the country. Give us a story of one kid that you’ve met and what they’re up against.

 

Bahree: Oh my God, so many, I don’t even know where to start. One of the most heart-wrenching experiences for me, personally, was I was in the capital in Delhi, and I went into -- there’s sort of like a slum area across from the Delhi stock exchange. It’s a maze of alleys, very narrow with tiny rooms on either side and an average size of the room is like half of an office in New York City, and these go up three stories. Everyone is living here in poverty, doing their work. There were a lot of these rooms that I went by where there were little kids — five, seven, 10 kids crammed into one room — and they were sticking pieces of mirror, pieces of glass on say, a pen holder or on a pen or on a photo frame. These are the kinds of things we see in home stores in the US all the time. I remember one room that I went into, the youngest kid was I think 5-years-old and the oldest must have been 10, and they have cigarette stains on their teeth because this is what they do day in and day out for 12 hours or 14 hours at a stretch. They start adopting nicotine, they start sniffing glue, and you could see that on their faces, and it was just miserable. And this is happening right in the heart of the capital. So that is the reality over here.

 

Werman: It’s funny, things we in the US just don’t think of -- I mean, I think of clothing and carpets, but I don’t think of all those decorative stones and rocks that you find at home improvement superstores, that all come from India.

 

Bahree: Yeah.

 

Werman: Journalist Megha Bahree speaking with me from Delhi. Thank you very much for your time, Megha.

 

Bahree: Thank you so much.