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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Nobel for whom: the giver or the recipient ? (Sunday Pioneer, October 12, 2014)

By Swapan Dasgupta

Whether it is the Nobel Prize for literature or the local Rotary Club’s recognition of local distinction, all awards are governed by subjective preferences. Indeed, the honours lists often tell us more about the preferences and priorities of the award-givers than the achievements of the award-winners.
The Nobel Peace Prize, awarded by a committee of Norwegian politicians, is no exception. Like the now-extinct Lenin Peace Prize or even our own Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace and what-not, its choice is out-and-out political and reflects the world as seen through the eyes of a Scandinavian country that now sees itself as a moral force for the good.
President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in the first year of his presidency, even before he had time to leave any mark on global affairs. The reason lay not in any tangible achievement but to the unspoken celebration of the first black man to occupy the White House. Mahatma Gandhi didn’t win any Peace Prize because Scandinavian opinion of the times regarded him as a subversive crank. But times have changed and Norwegians assess their own relevance these days in a different way. I am sure that they may even have awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly to a Sri Lankan President and the LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran had Colombo been foolish enough to concede Eelam as the price of peace. Certainly, the Norwegian mediators tried very hard to push for a line of least resistance.
To point a finger at the implicit political dimension of the Nobel award that was announced last Friday afternoon doesn’t amount to belittling the contribution of either our very own Kailash Satyarthi or the Pakistan-born, Birmingham-based Malala Yousafzai.
Through his Bachpan Bachao Andolan, Satyarthi has liberated thousands from the indignity and drudgery of child labour. By incessantly drawing attention to the evils of child labour, he has helped in drawing attention to a social evil. He has played a part in restoring an iota of childhood to many who were victims of both poverty and callousness.
Malala’s own contribution to combating extreme religious bigotry within Pakistan may have been nominal. However, in her determination to receive an education — otherwise denied to women in parts of the world — she has been an inspiration to many. Through her book and speaking tours she has, in effect, become a force challenging the radicalisation of impressionable Muslims living in the West.  
Both Satyarthi and Malala are inspirational figures battling for noble causes. However, they didn’t receive the Nobel Peace Prize because of their good works. The choice of the Norwegian Parliament was dictated by other considerations, not all of which are flattering to India.
For a start, there was the spurious equivalence drawn between Satyarthi and Malala by individuals for whom the “Third World” is one, big amorphous mass. “It is an important point”, declaimed the Nobel Committee, “for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle…” Yes, Satyarthi is a Hindu and Malala is a Muslim. But pray what has Satyarthy’s religion got to do with his crusade to restore the delights of childhood to those who have been prematurely exposed to the darker side of the market economy? Maybe there is an anti-theological underpinning to Malala’s feisty opposition to bigotry. To club the two, however, seems woefully contrived unless it was the Nobel Committee’s desire to expose the inherent barbarism of those outside the pale of Judaeo-Christian civilisation. If the Nobel Committee reflects on its rationalisation of the award, it may realise that many in the subcontinent would find it deeply offensive.
The contrived India-Pakistan hyphenation brings with it a huge baggage of stereotypes, some innocent and others less so. The Talibanisation of a large part of the Islamic world has created a serious image problem for countries such as Pakistan. As a symbol against perverse theocracy, Malala is important. But where does Satyarthi fit in? The answer is: awkwardly.
For the more calculating West — and I am not suggesting that the Norwegian Parliament is part of it — India occupies a grey zone. At one level, it has demonstrated its tremendous receptivity to modern science and technology — the very cost-efficient Mars Mission was a shining example. At the same time, there are patches of India where modernity is still a long distance away. In particular, India’s cheap labour costs are an unending source of concern to a West that is has lost its manufacturing edge.
One way out for the West is to adjust lifetstyles and standards of living to more realistic levels. But since that is politically unacceptable, the temptation to create non-tariff barriers for products emanating in countries such as India has proved irresistible. Satyarthi is battling against child labour as a legitimate human rights issue. Most of enlightened India supports initiatives like the Bachpan Bachao Andolan. For Western activists, however, the child labour issue is a useful handle to tar the Made in India label. The idea is to either black out Indian goods on grounds of unethical practices such as environmental degradation and dodgy labour practices or, at least, to raise the cost of production by adding to the levels of certification.
It is unduly simplistic to believe that there is a specific anti-Indian agenda. India has become an object of wariness partly because it has all the potential (and often shows the signs) of emerging as another variant of China. Bringing it down a notch or two by symbolically appropriating one man’s selfless agenda is clever politics. What Indians are celebrating as global recognition may well turn out to be a booster dose of Western condescension.


Anonymous said...

Why Satyarthi got so many awards from USA?

1. 18 years ago, in 1996, Kailash Satyarthi took his then 10 year daughter Miss Asmita Satyarthi as a Star Witness before a Foreign Nation- USA Congressional hearing a on child labor (an India-bashing event).
2. US Congressional hearing on Child Labor which was held in May 1996 was chaired by Congressman Joeseph Kennedy.
3. A year before this Congressional hearing, in 1995, Satyarthi got Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award.
4. Robert F. Kennedy was Joseph Kennedy's dad
5. Kerry Kennedy is the president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights which awarded Kailash Satyarthi.
6. Kerry Kennedy is the daughter of Robert F. Kennedy and sister of Congressman Joeseph Kennedy.

Hemant Shah said...

I think it went down something like this.
Lars Bjordhal: "Let's give it to that Pakistani girl .... you know the one who got shot by the Taliban when she wanted to go school"
Tanya Ljor: "What a great idea. Yes, I think Malala will be a good choice"
Thor Fjord: "Hey did you hear, Pakistan and India are at it again. God, wish we could stop them from fighting like this"
Tanya Ljor: "Again, that's an amazing idea too, Thor. Let's find an activist in India working on something nice, someone not politically contentitious. You know how it is when we select a well-known figure. We always get pilloried"
Lars Bjordhal: "Let me do a google search and some reading"
Lars Bjordhal (after few minutes of playing around on his iPad): "I found one guy. I think he is perfect and works against child labor. If we give it to him, it will send the right message. These countries, they have to come out of their stone age mentality."

sathish said...

commendable observation...! thumbs up..!

Ajay Khanna said...

Article is good but you seems not happy that it is awarded to Mr Satyarthy.
You are convinced that Malala has done enough in just few years to win but Mr Satyarthy is only a social work.Cant you see d contribution he has made to d world and given right direction to so many thousands children which otherwise could had turned to crime N violence and you n me may not be sitting as peaceful as we are today.Many of them could become Daoud or Bigger peace destroyer like Isis and world would had been in even bigger mess than today it is.
By the way what you have done for d society??

No-Name said...

Well Satyarthi works for the Judeo-Christian funded NGO World Vision

Anonymous said...

Very true sir.

Priya Pandit said...

I agree about the condescension and it struck me instantly that this may be a new stick to beat India down in manufacturing costs. Clever indeed.This kind of soft/hard approach has been used by the Western powers very many times against anyone or thing inconvenient to them. Dress it up in moral righteousness and lo! But I do not wish to take away anything from Mr Satyarthi or Ms Malala. They are icons and very inspiring.Great piece, Mr Dasgupta.

Avtar Singh said...

daily bell also looks on this prize with contempt and I agree

smohan said...

The best article on the subject so far from an Indian perspective. I knew something was not quite right about this Indo-Pak hyphenation. You have hit the nail on the head.

Rajendra Prasada Reddy said...

Very good observation. Swapan is a great journalist.

Unknown said...

Excellent article. "Make in India" campaign has both foreign as well as domestic enemies.