Friday, October 10, 2014

The Convenient Nobel Laureate

This morning I woke up to news about the Nobel Peace Prize. Malala Yusufzai and a certain Satyarthi had won the prize. The fact that I knew Pakistani Malala's full name and story while I knew nothing about Indian Satyarthi is perhaps most telling. About the... I am thinking travesty, ridiculousness, meaninglessness, but the use of any such term will perhaps make me the center of severe criticism. But you get the gist.

So here is why I hold my opinion. Malala's father owns a bunch of schools in the Swat valley. He is an activist, who has been very active in the politics and social activism in the area. Years ago, BBC Urdu wanted to profile the life of a school kid in the area via a blog. They picked a student, whose parents, fearing the Taliban dissuaded her from participating. Malala therefore, was the only other option. No doubt, she did a good job with the writings, and the soon blossoming poster child of Western media got center stage. The Taliban were devils, no doubt and they were suppressing female education. Everyone knew that, thanks to Khaled Hosseini, and a whole host of other artists, journalists and common sense. What better way to add color to the whole war on terror, than support a politically inclined family into projecting their living room conversations into the world stage? A BBC documentary followed.

The Taliban did what they do best, threatened, and followed through on their threat, in a very typical and expected act of idiocy. They shot at her, she survived and shot to fame. She began to speak about the known plight of girl children in Pakistan, who couldn't go to school. Again, everyone knew that. But the idea of a sixteen year old who survived a Taliban shooting was too fairytale-ish to not promote. The story was doing wonders to BBC. People who might not have bothered to see news about the Middle East stopped to admire the story of the girl who was shot at, speak to people about what everyone knew. For that's what she did. Speak. A sixteen year old addressed audiences in her coached oratory skills and spoke about what everyone already knew. Book deals, documentaries, international appearances and a Nobel Peace Prize. Every news website had her name as the headline this morning. She did what the BBC told her to do, she blogged, she persevered.

Kailash Satyarthi has been a champion against child labor for decades. In a country where children born do not mean more mouths to feed, but rather are more hands to earn. He left a promising career of his own free will and dedicated his life to working for the well-being of children. He established a system called the 'Rugmark', which can be carried by rugs that are not made by the innocent hands of little children. He has worked to protect the lives of 80,000 children. He has founded NGOs that work for children, worked with the UN to develop plans and goals that work towards the eradication of child labor. Yet his Wikipedia page is one third the size of Malala's.

I absolutely do not decry what Malala has been through. For a child, she has shown courage. But growing up in an activist household, with the BBC and international media as her Fairy Godmother instills a certain sense of courage as well. But does that require a recognition of the highest order? She now harbors political ambitions, sits in the UK and delivers well-rehearsed speeches and she is a household name. Her fellow-awardee, with a life of work, who left a promising career to follow a calling has been working and is still working and making a difference. Not just by talks, but by tangible action. To be feted at once, perhaps decries his achievements and stops painfully short of Malala's potential.

The only saving grace though, is the fact that this is the Nobel Peace Prize that has in the past been given to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (in the year when they were used in Syria), the EU for not having repeated a nightmare called the Holocaust (no, seriously the reason they were awarded the prize was, the EU's over 6 decades of contribution to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe), Obama (for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples; seriously? a year into his presidency?) and Yasser Arafat. I don't even want to go into talking about the last person.

So Suu Kyi, Mother Teresa and Mr. Satyarthi - better served not thinking too much about fellow awardees. Their true award is only in their body of work.

1 comment:

Shreya at Jumbodium said...

Very nice article. There are still many things that we do not know and are still lacking behind. Thank u for the wonderful post. Keep posting with lots more.