By A.R, The Economist
Oct 10th 2014
IT IS a bitter irony that, in the days before the Nobel committee announced joint Indian and Pakistani winners of the 2014 peace prize, their armies have been shelling across their disputed border in Kashmir. In the past week or so both countries have been steadily breaking a decade-long ceasefire, killing each other’s soldiers and civilians. So far the dead in the latest exchanges are said to number at least 18.
In Oslo, naturally, the attention is on the two winners of the peace prize. The committee has returned its focus to individuals, after two successive years of giving it to institutions (the European Union in 2012, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in 2013). On the Pakistani side Malala Yousafzai, at 17 years, is its youngest-ever recipient; many had believed she might have received it last year. She is the girl who was shot in the neck and head while returning from school on a bus, in 2012. The Pakistani Taliban admitted the deed. A spokesman for the extremists said she was targeted for spreading "secular ideology". She had shown immense courage in the face of the repressive religious thuggery that grows ever more pervasive in Pakistan.
As The Economist wrote last year:
"She was already famous at the age of 11 as the writer of a blog for the BBC Urdu service, giving an impression of life under the rule of the Taliban in her native Swat valley. Along with the routine details of her existence, she described the Taliban's crackdown on culture, music and on schooling for girls." After her shooting she got medical care and then took asylum in Britain. She now runs a trust there, the Malala Fund, that promotes education for girls. She had already earned a host of prizes, including the European Union's Sakharov prize for human rights.
The committee awarded the prize jointly this year, including a second figure, a Hindu man from India who is far less famous—but arguably he has achieved just as much. Kailash Satyarthi campaigns against child slavery in India, leading a group called Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save Childhood Movement), formed in 1980. His group suggests that, over the years, he and some 80,000 volunteers have been responsible for winning the freedom of more than 78,500 children in India, each of whom had been in some type of slavery. Among the most typical forms of exploitation is bonded labour, including debt bondage—when children are in effect made into slaves to serve the debts of their parents. Though such debt bondage has been banned in India since 1975, almost nobody is prosecuted over it. Among the most vulnerable families are Dalits (formerly "untouchables") and the impoverished peasants who migrate to work in brick kilns.
Mr Satyarthi has suggested that millions of children are trafficked within India, and that tens of millions are used in some form of labour—on farms, as household servants, weaving rugs and more—many of them in dreadful conditions. Inadequate laws which are anyway poorly enforced, along with a reluctance among society’s most traditional elements to admit to the scourge, all make it harder to combat. In fast-growing cities, too, young labourers are exploited in construction sites, and used as near-slaves in households.
Will the fact of a jointly awarded prize in any way encourage better relations between India and Pakistan? The award committee may perhaps hope so, though neither of these two recipients has made a point of looking at relations between the rival countries. There have been many other dual recipients of the Nobel prize, for example Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk in South Africa, or John Hume and David Trimble of Northern Ireland, but in such cases the pairings were rewarded for efforts made to settle long-running conflicts. In this case, though the recipients are both South Asian, and both promote the interests of children, there is little reason to expect any relief from the long-standing and bitter confrontation that divides their nuclear-armed countries. Others will have to work on bilateral peace. No doubt the Nobel committee would be willing to dish out another award to a couple of South Asian winners, if progress were to be made on that front, too.