This year’s Nobel Peace Prize would have gladdened the hearts of all admirers of the coveted award across the globe had it not been put in a Western straitjacket of long-standing prejudice against India and especially against Hinduism.
Unlike the science Nobel prizes, the peace prize is decided by the Norwegian parliamentary committee and politics naturally gets into the mix of emotions and criteria. Truly, the two winners richly deserve the coveted prize on the basis of each in his or her own work. But it is difficult to agree with what the Norwegian committee that picked up the winners has said in justification: “The Nobel Committee regards it as an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism.”
Except from a prejudicial and persistent Western perspective no one in the world would place India and Pakistan on one pedestal in regard to education and child welfare. In India there is a legal right to education, child labour is prohibited by the Constitution and law. In many states enrolment of girls in educational institutions has crossed 80 per cent; in some it is nearly or actually 100 per cent.
What happens here is that governments are slack in enforcing the law against children being employed and the extreme poverty of parents forces them to send their wards to work. The solution lies in both enforcing the law strictly and ensuring the right to education is in fact also availed of. Kailash Satyarthi, who has won the prize, has been very active in ensuring the law is enforced and hidden child employment is brought out in the open.
The Indian state is strengthened by such non-governmental activity. The Nobel prize would energise such activity and go far in achieving 100 per cent enforcement of the legal and constitutional right to education. It must also be emphasised that in India neither the Constitution nor the legal system discriminates between boys and girls and many state governments give specific and wide-ranging incentives to parents for enrolment of girls in educational institutions pushing through age-old prejudices.
That is not the situation in Pakistan. Malala Yousafzai was just 15 when the Taliban, who claim to enforce strict Islamic law, shot her for her advocacy of girls’ education which they claim is against their religion. She survived the murderous attempt mainly because she was airlifted to the UK. Malala now works from the UK and cannot go back to Pakistan where the Taliban killers are waiting for her. The interpretation of Islamic law and practice by the Muslim clerics is against her fight for girls’ right to education. And this interpretation supports the terrorists to prevent spread of girls’ education.
In total contrast, the Indian constitution does not recognise the superiority of any religion over it and in fact calls for a common civil code whatever be the personal laws of particular communities. It is regrettable that the Nobel committee failed to recognise the clear distinction between the two countries.
There is no commonality in the struggles of the two Nobel awardees: Satyarthi was working for enforcement of the existing law and the constitution in India while the Pakistani girl was fighting for the very right of girls to go to school, a right denied by a mix of religion and religion-based militancy. Satyarthi is very much in India but Malala can only work from outside her nation in the safety of a liberal democracy like the UK. Besides, India is fighting tooth and nail against terrorism but in Pakistan, terrorism is a part of the state’s weapon against its own minorities and against neighbours, notably India.
One point about child labour should not be overlooked even as the constitutional directive against it should be enforced. Also this point has nothing to do with the religion of the child.
Our overemphasis on education has continually degraded the value of working by hand and achieving excellence in such trades as carpentry, mechanics, construction, metallics, artisan’s work, etc. The result is that we have a surplus of unemployed and often unemployable young educated while we have a huge gap in supply of tradesmen like carpenters and mechanics.
The ancient system which kept up this supply of artisans has broken down and even the artisans prefer their children to become babus in offices rather than follow their profession. In recent times, our educational planners have become conscious of this anomaly and sought to provide a vocational stream after middle school and much more after the 10th standard.
Child labour, which is certainly not desirable, is a convoluted outcome of this imbalance as children are not encouraged to learn vocational skills from their parents or peers and at the same time parents have no means to sustain them in schools. We have sought to meet this by making secondary and higher secondary education as affordable to the poorest as possible but have done nothing to correct the social perspective about vocational skills.
A teenager left to learn under a motor mechanic is able to be employed and earn his bread by the time he is an adult while one who concentrates on formal education finds himself unemployable at 18 and he is unable to specify what he is good at. Child labour is not the answer but a return to honour the vocational skills and treat the carpenter on equal terms with the learned would rebalance our educational system and reconstruct our society of unequals.
Learning a variety of skills our people are endowed with—in which they created a name for our products in the past and an export market—will require treating children learning such skills while attending school not as victims of child labour but apprentices acquiring intricate skills through hard labour to create unique products and services. It will also make a significant dent in unemployment by turning out fully employable youths. Our present laws that accept only factory employment as apprenticeship should be amended and skill learning under elders and peers should be recognised for its true worth.
India needs to transform into a humongous subcontinental workshop rather than a clutch of babus, willing to pay a fortune under the table to get a police constable’s position or as an unqualified teacher. Our next Nobel Laureate must come from among those who have made this value change and vocational transformation possible despite the odds.
The author is national vice president, BJP.