While it definitely celebrates human achievement in the face of adversity, the trouble with international recognition of the Nobel Peace Prize is that it holds a mirror to our shortcomings. That is exactly what the honour to Bachpan Bachao Andolan founder, Kailash Satyarthi should do to India.
It is 2014, and still millions of children in the age group of five to 14 are in the informal job market as child labourers. Indeed, a large majority of them are sold as slave labour in urban centres, in farms, in diamond units, in firecracker and garment factories, and there is just no sign of it stopping any moment. This is the cold, hard reality we need to face as a nation.
This year's Nobel is simultaneously our pride and our shame.
To be sure, there has been a drastic reduction of the incidence of child labour in India since the 2001 Census revealed a shocking figure of 12.6 million children listed in this category. A nationwide survey by the ministry of statistics and programme implementation in 2009-10 stated that this number had fallen to 4.6 million. While this number is in dispute, there is no gainsaying that child labour continues to haunt both urban and rural families.
There are at least five well-defined pieces of legislation that outlaw child labour in India, including the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009. But, like in many other spheres, these laws, too, have lax implementation, giving offenders an almost free run.
Child labour is a direct result of poverty, and while a young child contributes incomes to a family facing starvation, it is also true that the same child will be unable to contribute to national growth when she is an adult, as she would have little or no access to education.
This is the tragedy that Satyarthi has tried to counter. What this country needs is not just a Nobel, but a thousand other Satyarthis, and economic growth that touches the poorest of the poor. That would be a true testament to our nation's progress.