December 22, 1996
on child rights
extraordinary, Swami Agnivesh has waged a three-decade campaign
against bonded labour, child labour and untouchability. B S Arun
of Sunday Spotlight spoke to Swami Agnivesh on the issue of child
labour in the light of the recent Supreme Court order. Excerpts
from the interview:
Agnivesh, Arya Samaj leader and President of the Bandhua Mukti
Morcha which he himself formed in 1981, has been an uncompromising
fighter against several evils like bonded-labour, child labour,
sati and untouchability. He has also championed the cause of prohibition
and has combined social activism with religion and politics in
the last three decades of his public life.
Swami's campaign against sati after the 1987 incident of the burning
of a young bride at her husband's funeral pyre at Deorala in Rajasthan
brought him in direct confrontation with the Shankaracharya of
Puri. He has also risked expulsion from the Araya Samaj. Swami
Agnivesh also led the famous march of dalits to the Nathdwara
temple in protest against untouchability.
the Swami, who has also been a lawyer, politician and a minister
(in Haryana in the late eighties) in best known for his work among
the bonded labourers. His Bandhua Mukti Morcha is in the forefront
of efforts to eradicate the practice of bonded labour which still
exists in many states. The organisation has helped in the release
of thousands of people from exploitation and slavery for life
and in their subsequent rehabilitation. The Swami has won a number
of awards in his career of public service including the coveted
International Freedom and Human Rights Award.
Your Comment on the Supreme Court judgement.
SA: It is
a landmark judgement. It will once again bring into sharp focus
the plight of the 60 million child labourers working for eight
to 16 hours a day. We hope against hope that the lethargic bureaucracy
is sensitised by this ruling. It gives a wake up call to the country
and hence we welcome it.
It is also
unfortunate that Article 45 of our Constitution which says that
every child be put in school is being criminally disregarded by
every successive government.
The plea by
politicians of all hues that we are a poor country and hence we
cannot give education to all children or make it compulsory, ignores
the fact that we have an equal number of unemployed adults in
the country. If we send all the 60 million child labourers to
school, you provide an equal number of adults with work. Unfortunately,
the verdict has endorsed the serious lacuna that children can
be allowed work in non-hazardous industries. Out of the 60 million,
not even half a million children are working in hazardous industries.
How do you see the implementation of the Judgement?
SA: This is
where I have my reservations. There is no clear cut mention (in
the judgement) of a monitoring agency for a thorough implementation.
The Supreme Court would have done well by asking the government
to appoint such an agency with committed social activists or retired
judges in it. In the absence of such an agency, the whole thing
falls back on an insensitive bureaucracy which has been the undoing
of our democracy.
a landmark judgement like this fails, it may well create a backlash
and people will lose confidence in the law.
Will the existing government network be able to handle the job?
Once again, I would like to reiterate that the phenomenon of child
labour cannot be tackled on the basis of the 1986 Act. The whole
approach has to be shifted from child labour to the child's rights.
The fundamental right of every child is the right to education.
Schools for these children should be run by private organisations
and the government should give 100 percent grant to them.
How sincere do you think the government will be in honoring the
now, I don't see much sincerity in the government. There is very
little faith if the government is persuaded or goaded to do something.
If only the SC had booked or pulled up some top people in the
government and bureaucracy, we would have hoped to see some action.
Moreover, the judgement has not said a word against the states.
It is the states' responsibility to provide education to children
as well as to prevent child labour.
What steps do you think are necessary for effective implementation
of the order?
The United Front government and its Common minimum program have
promised to eradicate child labour in hazardous industries. The
government should implement education as a fundamental right and
feel accountable for its implementation. It should allocate resources
and open schools to provide quality education.