SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The most poignant moment of the two-day TiE 2016 conference, held at the Santa Clara Convention Center May 6 and 7, came during the final hours on the second day of the convention.
During a soul-stirring keynote speech in the evening by Kailash Satyarthi, who had been presented with the Nobel Prize in 2014 for his humanitarian efforts in freeing young children from slavery and bonded labor, the Nobel laureate forcefully declared: “I refuse to accept that children should be forced into slave labor. I refuse to accept that we cannot do anything about it. Every child matters.”
According to a video shown to the audience, Satyarthi has already freed a total of 85,755 children from slave labor in India. Most of them had been forced into making handmade carpets in North India.
But Satyarthi has not achieved this feat easily. After graduating with a degree in electrical engineering, the activist gave up a lucrative career in Madhya Pradesh and moved to Delhi “because I was passionate about the cause of freeing enslaved children,” he stated.
Satyarthi recounted his first violent confrontation when he and few aides descended upon an illegal brothel where young kidnapped girls were being trained to be used for prostitution. Satyarthi had gone to rescue just one girl at the behest of her father, but they ended up rescuing a total of 36 young girls. This became his first documented case of his liberation of children.
“How can slavery and civilization co-exist?” Satyarthi asked rhetorically. “Child slavery has to be recognized,” he stated emphatically.
In his quest for freeing the 85,000-plus children to date, Satyarthi has had his legs broken, his left shoulder and head bashed, his house ransacked….and yet he continues to march on undeterred.
Why does he take these huge risks? The answer is simple, he says. “I have a clarity of mission. I know what I want. The greater the risks, the greater the rewards,” he said, adding that two of his colleagues have been killed so far, in their mission.
As to the question of why he chose to come to the TiE conference, Satyarthi responded: “I wanted to feel the power of 4,000 successful entrepreneurs who have gathered here. You all are risk takers, innovators; you have brought prosperity to this nation and made India proud. You have changed the image of India; you have brought deeper value to humanity. I am here to reach out to you to recognize child slavery and join me in my efforts to free this world from child slave labor.”
“With your help we can think louder and bigger. We can abolish child slavery and make this world a better place. I urge you to join me in making this world a better place. Are you willing to work with me?’ Satyarthi asked the audience.
The entire hall full of attendees came back with a resounding “Yes!”
Q and A with Raju Reddy
Raju Reddy, who was one of the two conveners of this year’s conference, joined Satyarthi on stage for a brief question-and-answer session.
“How did you get from being an electrical engineer to becoming a humanitarian?” Reddy asked.
“I used to design transformers and our goal was to make sure there was no loss of power. I also had this deep compassion for child slavery which became more powerful than my career. When I quit engineering, all my colleagues laughed at me,” the Nobel laureate responded. “That was until I received the Nobel Prize. Then all of a sudden, I started receiving calls from all my former college classmates reminding me who they were, and then offering me their congratulations.”
Satyarthi confided that as soon as he had received word about his award, he went before a mirror and took several selfies of himself because he never before had the opportunity to have a picture taken with a Nobel Prize winner.
Twelve-year-old Khushi, who is a volunteer with Sevathon and who has written an essay on Satyarthi, asked this question: “You want to completely abolish child slavery. What gives you the confidence that you will succeed?
Satyarthi insisted on calling Khushi up to the stage before giving his response.
“We have seen the progress we have made in the last 15 years. Child labor has declined considerably. I have learnt that the state government, the major corporations, and the members of the civil society have to all work together to achieve this goal.
“The Nobel Prize was not a distraction. It was merely a comma in my life, not a full stop. It has provoked me to think again and bigger,” Satyarthi continued.
“Poverty and child labor is violence against children. They are innocent victims of adult actions. We have to find a business solution. Poverty leads to illiteracy which, in turn, leads to child labor. All three have to be solved together,” Satyarthi concluded.
“Let us all help to educate these poor children so they can be freed from child labor altogether.”
“Mr. Satyarthi is a glorious example of how ordinary people can indeed do extraordinary things,” Reddy stated in his closing remarks.
India-West staff reporter Giovanni Albanese Jr. adds: Earlier in the day, Satyarthi met with a pool of reporters and touched on a number of pressing issues facing India and the globe.
The Nobel laureate said he doesn’t see much difference in social and economic entrepreneurship since the two affect one another.
“The power of business is enormous and it is growing,” he said. “Now the question is, ‘How is business being harnessed, channelized and used to solve the darker side?'”
Satyarthi believes using compassion and intelligence in business can make the world a better place.
“Profit, people, planet and peace must go hand-in-hand,” he urged.
He went on to discuss the current status of India, stating that children need to be given general education as a preventative measure to avoid child labor.
“Equally important are good laws in place,” he said, which must be implemented. Social and business accountability is key as preventative measures, he noted. “All chains of government and central government should prioritize investing in protection, education and health for children.”
“We can put an end to child slavery and child labor,” Satyarthi continued. “That is not something which is unachievable or unaffordable. We can do it and we will do it in India.”
The Nobel Prize laureate also spoke at the India Community Center in Milpitas on May 8.