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 Kailash Satyarthi picinterview with Kailash Satyarthi

The foremost advocate for the abolition of child servitude in Asia, Kailash Satyarthi has emancipated over 40,000 people from slave-like conditions.

Q What is your hope for the next few days? What do you hope happens here in Washington?
KS I hope that the issue of children of child slavery and justice for children will be brought to the notice of many more people and I hope there will be more involvement and increased concern for the issue in the coming days.

Q How did you meet Kerry Kennedy and how did you get involved in this project?
KS When I was chosen as one the laureates of RFK Human Rights Award about five years back, it was the first time I met her. I found that she was extremely passionate and involved not only with the human rights issues overall, but also clearly involved with the question of children, so that made me a good friend of hers.

Q And how much time did she spend with you?
KS I met her several times, but she also participated in the Global March against Child Labor which we organized a few years back. She came all the way to India and walked with us in the remotest villages in Pakistan and Delhi.

Q Have you met any of the other defenders who are here this weekend?
KS I know many of them, like Bruce Harris, like Hina Jilani and Muhammad Yunnus. There are a couple of whom I'd met before—The Dalai Lama is not here, but I met him too.

Q If you had the opportunity to talk to President Clinton at length, what would you want to say to the President of the United States?
KS I know that after a couple of months, he won't be the President of the United States, but nonetheless, he is still a world leader for now. He's one of the top world statesmen. Being a statesman he can take up the cause of children; child labor and education for children, which in the future, can help to bring mammoth support to the whole movement against child slavery, as well as favor for the cause of education for children throughout the world.

Q Ariel Dorfman has put together your words and some of the other defenders to make the play. One of the things that keeps coming up is how people feel that this is a time when people don't seem to be that involved with issues. How do you get people to care about what's happening in a little village in India, in Guatemala?
KS There are several areas where the American people could get involved or they are already involved. For instance, the things produced by slaves in India or in Guatemala or in other parts of the world, are used by the American consumers here in this land. Carpets and rugs are some of them which, like apples, are produced by child slaves and children in other countries. The rugs end up here and they are used by the American people. We have been more than successful in raising this as an issue of consumer consciousness and consumer power—how can consumers make sure that the things that end up here are not made by children and child slaves?

Q How would one know whether or not a carpet or rug has been made by child laborers?
KS The buyer of a carpet must ask for the label on the carpet. The label is called a rugmark. A rugmark is a seal or label attached to a carpet which has been confirmed as free of child labor in India, Pakistan, and Nepal. That is an initiative which has been quite successful in other parts of the world, too.

Q Tell me a little about the young man that you brought here from India.
KS He is Kalu Kamar, a twelve-year-old boy. He was born in a bonded labor family where his father was himself a bonded labor. Bonded labor basically means slavery, where one has no right to get away from the clutches of the master. Kalu was kidnapped from his village and taken to a carpet factory where he was confined and locked in a small room for about two years. When he cried for his mother he was beaten up. He was branded, he was abused and tortured just for smiling or making fun amongst themselves. Now we have liberated him, and he is a very bright boy. He was admitted to a normal elementary school, public school, where he stood first in his class. He was introduced to his class last year, and he has taken 1st and 4th grade. Now he is studying for 5th grade.

Q How did he react when you aksed if he was interested in coming to the United States?
KS A boy like him has never imagined such things. Before last year, he had never heard of America, for instance. He had never seen an airplane before. He traveled on a train once in his lifetime. That was his past—it was beyond his imagination. So when I brought him to the airplane, he was amazed. He could not understand. He could not grasp it. He just smiled. For a couple days he was just smiling. He was so excited.

Q Did he ask you why he was going? Was he scared at all?
KS Not at all, because it was through a process. He was living in one of our rehabilitation centers, where about 100 children freed from slavery are living with us. They are changing their lives, we are imparting them with education, vocational training, and other things. So he was chosen as part of this process—he knew and the rest of the children also know what he's going to do.

Q When I looked at the footage of you doing one of the rescues, one of the things that struck me was that the children seem to be in a state of shock. They don't immediately start jumping up and down. They seem totally numb. Maybe you could explain this for us.
KS When we rescue them, it is a big shock for them because perhaps it is the first time in their life when anybody has come to rescue them or help them. Being helped by others is also beyond their imagination. They've never thought something like that would happen in their life. It is a big trauma for them. They had no expectation or no belief in other people. So when somebody comes to help them they cannot grasp it, they cannot digest it. In many cases, they may feel that this is just another employer. With the right timing, we have to tell them that they're free—"You're free, you're free!" We always bring some of the parents of those children to tell them that now you are free. Because the whole imagination or the whole concept of freedom is not there in their minds. They are born in slavery, they are working in slavery, they were sold or lured away or kidnapped from one slave to another slave. That's why is very difficult for them to understand what is happening. It takes time to get rid of the trauma.


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