By SHANTANU GUHA RAY
Kailash Satyarthi’s moment of glory coincided with a UK court’s refusal to extradite Raymond Varley, a British paedophile, who allegedly abused and tortured children in a Goa orphanage for close to two decades.
Both the news made instant headlines, and continues to dominate India’s maddening media space.
I remembered him as a genial person who walked into the offices of the United News of India to inform copy editors about his Bachpan Bachao Andolan, which he had formed a year after India hosted the Asian Games.
Probably he had too much of work, Satyarthi came to UNI on a deserted Sunday. Even the canteen, which always had more people than journalists on the agency’s role, was shut.
No one could offer him the mandatory coffee.
He was accompanied by Swami Agnivesh, the bonded labour crusader. A reporter from Calcutta (it was not yet Kolkata) quipped: “Surajit Sengupta and Swami Vivekananda are walking into UNI.” He had merit in his words, ostensibly because Satyarthi resembled a copy of the Bengal footballer, and many in Delhi had already pronounced the saffron robed Agnivesh a copy of the venerated monk who formed the Ramakrishna Mission order.
For almost three decades, Satyarthi worked tirelessly to save children, relying mostly on gutsy reporters.
My two minute of glory with him happened around the time when he helped ESPN bust a story on child labour in a soccer ball making factory. Satyarthi had worked overtime to get some clinching evidence from similar sweat shops in Pakistan. FIFA, the game’s controlling body, was stunned.
Satyarthi did more.
He highlighted the plight of children working in leather and brass factories for 18 hours at a stretch in the Indian Capital and neighbouring Moradabad town. He let the world know how children were exploited in sugarcane fields and carpet factories of Uttar Pradesh.
To the riches, especially the carpet lobby and the sugarcane lobby, he was a hated man. Many times he was chased, so were reporters. But news kept filtering into the media, prompting the courts to issue instant closure orders.
Thanks to him, 90,000 children saw a happy tomorrow.
When he first walked the path, he was supported by reporters armed with torn notebooks, typewriters, telex and tele-printer machines. If he had the social media on his side in 1983, the number of children saved would be ten times.
And many more carpetbaggers would have been silenced.
Tonight is his moment, he is living it. A friend told me Satyarthi would not be able to rest tonight.
Sometimes, happiness takes away sleep.
(Shantanu Guha Ray is a senior journalist based in Delhi)