16.10.14

Politicising Satyarthi and Malala: The Nobel Peace Prize

The folks in Norway think thought this would be one uncontroversial award this year when the fact is it had enough matchsticks to light a fire.

Not only did the Nobel Peace Prize committee choose two disparate individuals from two countries at loggerheads, it also emphasised the differences,  although the politics lie deeper:

The committee said it was important that a Muslim and a Hindu, a Pakistani and an Indian, had joined in what it called a common struggle for education and against extremism.

Does an ongoing war have scope for 'peace'?

The struggle is not common. Kailash Satyarthi works in the field to save children from labour, trafficking, exploitation and ultimately to the basic right to life and dignity. It is a social problem with no political or religious connotation. Malala Yousafzai's struggle is specific and personal in what is a Muslim nation that has to deal with 'Islamist terrorists' politically.

It does not behoove an international body, that too one which honours people from diverse backgrounds, to use terms that are non secular when one of the recipients is certainly not expected to flaunt religion either in his work or as a representative of India.

In Malala's case, her existence as cult figure is linked with Islam. The West would not give her the time of day had it not been so. This also applies to non-Pakistani approbation for her, which is based on how to treat the Muslim who speaks out against 'Islam'. Fact is, she has not. They imagine she might, and she very well could. Just as she said at the Marxist's conference in Pakistan, “I am convinced Socialism is the only answer and I urge all comrades to take this struggle to a victorious conclusion. Only this will free us from the chains of bigotry and exploitation.”

This made her socialism’s spokesperson, and reveals the opportunistic nature of almost everybody across the ideological spectrum and speaks very little for the phenomenon who is universally available. She has just won another place – among the most influential teenagers; she shares the spot with Barack Obama’s daughters who are in the news for their style statement. But, then, model Naomi Campbell congratulating a “malaria” instead of Malala becomes news enough for her to issue a clarification. It is a funny world.

Satyarthi has been immediately put in the company of Mahatma Gandhi for his "peaceful protests". Fighting for the rights of children is not a war, although it is a battle against odds. The emphasis on peaceful protests makes it appear as though it is unusual and violence would have been the first choice when that is not the case most of the time.

Like quite a few people I did not know about India’s latest hero who had founded the Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement). It is great work. But, will a Nobel alter the prospects of him achieving many more goals? Does the Nobel work like, say, the Oscars that help a film or a Booker that gets more readers to buy a book? I doubt it. It may benefit the winner to be more visible, but only for a while.

Does being a photo on schoolbags
bring about change?

Unless it is Malala, who is now a feminist, an activist, an education, a social reformer, and also a PM-in-waiting. If you are going to give out cute reports about how she insisted on attending class, then at least do not refer to her as an educationist. It is a good thing that her Prize has awakened a section of Pakistanis to the problem of children, but they said it also when she was shot at by the Taliban, when she spoke at the UN, and whenever she gets many of those awards they want to give someone from the Af-Pak region. What happens in the interim time between these ceremonies?

If children going to school is to be attributed to a girl being shot then it does not say much about the government or the society, and it is really unfair to the latter that has produced some remarkable people in different fields of endeavour. The west is unlikely to even look at an organisation like Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) for whom human rights, education and betterment of women is an ongoing struggle.

If this is a peace award, are we to take it that peace is now not defined as active participation towards the absence of war? How did Obama merit it? Can a Satyarthi, despite his genuine efforts, ensure that his fight will be to the finish to end trafficking? Can a Malala ‘reform’ Pakistan and help a transition from almost daily issues towards peace from Birmingham?

Nobody expects any individual to bring about major changes. The point is – are the minor changes really there, or is it all in the mind of observers as protectors of phenomena?

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Do read A Mirage Called Malala and the comments there.